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French connections

Sales of French programming into Brazil are on the increase, particularly documentaries, as pay-TV in the country continues to gain traction. Marie-Agnès Bruneau reports.

The Day Before

Something is going on between France and Brazil. Although still relatively small in terms of revenue, sales of French programming into the country tripled to €2m (US$2.6m) in 2010, according to the latest TV France International (TVFI) study, and growth should continue this year. Total French sales in Latin America amounted to €4m.

The trend is most noticeable in documentaries and, in some cases, animation. Drama remains more hit and miss, according to distributors. “Latin America is our fastest-developing area, particularly Brazil, Mexico and Argentina,” says Christophe Bochnacki, head of sales and acquisitions at Havas Production’s Upside Distribution, which specialises in documentaries, together with a few dramas.

“Since 2010 Brazilian broadcasters have been more interested in the programming we have to offer. In documentaries, we recently sold Design: Made In France and How Steve Jobs Changed the World to Globosat HD. Another big change is that prices can go up if you have something they want – for instance, if it is in the news at the time,” he says, giving as an example the increased fee Upside commanded for its Steve Jobs doc.

As a result, Upside was at Natpe in Miami last month to highlight its Arte travel series Through Your Eyes (40×26’), about a blind journalist discovering the world through her other senses. “We believe this peculiar series could suit Latin America, as disability gets media attention in this part of the world,” says Bochnacki.

Cédric Hazard

Arte’s sales department, which markets some of the cultural channel’s flagship docs, confirms increased interest in Brazil. “We were really happy with 2010 because we moved a big step further in the private broadcasting market,” says head of sales Cédric Hazard. “In Brazil, we have had a strong long-standing relationship with TV Cultura, selling them 20 to 25 highbrow documentaries a year, such as The Bhutto Saga, Torture: Made in USA and our documentaries on Malher, Gorbachev and so on,” he says.

As for private broadcasters, Arte has been supplying Globosat’s women’s channel GNT, “selling three to five titles per year, mostly our documentary series on fashion and designers,” says Hazard. Among these was Loic Pringent’s behind-the-scene series about the fashion industry, The Day Before, an Arte bestseller.

“What’s new is that we have expanded our partnership with Globosat by reaching a major deal for 40 hours of cultural documentaries for a new on-demand TV service they are launching,” says Hazard. This includes Arte series about architecture and design as well as other subjects.

Another French company that recorded a big increase in business with Brazil was Zed, which distributes nature, discovery and history programming. It too went to Natpe. “We have been working [with Brazilian buyers] on a regular basis over the past 10 years and have sold them about 150 hours,” says Céline Payot-Lehmann, head of distribution and acquisitions at Zed. “But it has accelerated recently, with 100 hours sold over just the past two years. In December alone, we sold three new titles: France 2’s HD wildlife series Wild Orphans [4×52’], which went to Globosat HD; and two of France 5’s 52-minute HD one-offs. Hell’s Miners of Potosi went to Discovery HD Theatre and Facing The Giant Bees [the latest instalment of Zed’s Becoming a Man series] was picked up by Canal Futura.”

Zed also works with Discovery Latina, Globosat and TV Cultura, and is starting negotiations with TV Brazil. Payot-Lehmann says it helped that Zed holds Brazilian-Portuguese versions of the 150 hours that have already been broadcast in the country. Half the recent sales were of library programming and half new titles.

“Compared with other Latin American countries, Brazil is more interested in cultural fare, as opposed to more commercial factual programming, which the French have a reputation for doing well,” she says.

France Télévisions Distribution (FTD) is less enthusiastic about the Brazilian market, however. “We had a strong year in 2010 but 2011 was a bit slower,” says Eric Vernière, VP of international sales at FTD. “We have been working with Globosat for many years, selling them our big documentaries such as Apocalypse and Earth From Above, which are our best-sellers everywhere. We also sold France 5’s HD nature series Somewhere On Earth. However, the drama market is much more competitive, although we sold the four seasons of teen live-action series Summer Dreams into Brazil, and recently the thriller Signature, starring movie star Sandrine Bonaire.”

Newen Distribution sales manager Ulrich Lagriffoul agrees. “Historically, French drama has a good reception and Brazilian buyers always attend Le Rendez-Vous screenings in Biarritz, but the volume is relatively small. In drama, their local production is very strong. We sell mostly to Globosat and it has to be high-production-value HD drama.” Its recent sales included France 2 thriller miniseries The Hunter and Second World War telemovie Mademoiselle.

However, Newen has high expectations for its new drama series Rani, “because it meets more of the criteria of the region, being a costume drama with romance and it’s sexy and modern. This is what they like, although it is also something they do very well themselves,” he says. “We are also targeting the territory with formats and are going to highlight our new gameshow Harry.” The latter has already been optioned in Spain.

In drama, Upside recently sold two France 2 dramas to GNT. “Both are about women’s liberty issues,” explains Bochnacki. Nouveau Monde is about two gay women trying to have a child, while Procès de Bobigny centres on the 1976 trial of a young girl who had an abortion after being raped, which led to the legalisation of abortion in France.

In animation, Mediatoon saw its sales in the region grow recently, especially in Brazil. “We more than doubled our sales into Latin America last year. We had five or six series on air there in 2010 but had 15 last year, particularly in Brazil and Mexico,” says Marie Bariller, the company’s international sales executive.

Bariller puts Mediatoon’s success partly down to the popularity of its Garfield series, which first ran on Cartoon Network and was then sold to Brazilian net Rede Record. Another reason was that Mediatoon’s programming library is largely based on comic book properties. “This means licensing and merchandising opportunities, which reassures broadcasters,” she explains.

Mediatoon has also managed to sell series based on characters not known at all in the region, such as Spirou & Fantasio, which was picked up by TV Brazil, and The New Adventures of Lucky Luke, which sold to Rede Record. Mediatoon also has high hopes for its new series
Chicken Town .

“Unlike other parts of the world, where children’s strands are shrinking, they are quite stable in Brazil, and TV Globo and Rede Record are opening up a lot to European programming,” she notes. “We are selling as much to the commercial channels as to the public ones.”

There is also plenty of activity on the coproduction front. France’s Pampa Productions and France 2 collaborated with Brazil’s Grupo Conspiraçao, TVGlobo and Rio Filme on costume drama miniseries Brazil Red (2×90’), based on Jean-Christophe Rufin’s novel. Pampa has already worked with Brazil but what was new was the amount of money raised in the country – €2.5m, or 30% of the €9m budget, thanks to the various grants available in Brazil.

Yves Jeanneau

French documentary market Sunny Side of The Doc held its third Latin Side of the Doc pitching sessions in December to promote coproductions between Europe and Latin America. Head of Sunny Side Yves Jeanneau claims the projects that get more attention are the ones that already have two producers from different countries aboard. “It is not so much the broadcaster’s licence fee that brings the money but the various domestic grants producers can leverage,” he says, adding that Brazilian broadcasters were not the most active at Latin Side, compared with Mexico’s Once TV and Venezuela’s TeleSur, which were both keen on international coproductions.

Among the projects that got the most interest were a couple pitched by independent producer Jean-Michel Rodrigo’s Mécanos Productions: Benghazi – Beyond The Front Line, about the civilian upheavals that helped overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, which received firm interest from Once TV, along with Paco Ibañez – The Word and the Song.

Mécanos is not new to Latin American copros and has been looking to develop them for some time, as Rodrigo actually lived in the region years ago. “I have been trying persistently to establish links between the two continents,” he says. “It proved complicated and we have faced obstacles. My strategy has been to try to build a triangle between France, Spain and Latin America. What’s new, however, is that over the past two or three years there has been a bit of money in these territories. We’ve seen some significant improvements in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.”

Rodrigo coproduced 2010’s Cuban Memories, about the cinemagraphic archives of Cuba, on the 50th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s ascent to power. “The deal was rather complicated to set up, but in this region, once it’s signed everything gets easier,” he says. “About half of the budget came from France and half from Latin America – Cuba and Brazil. In France, a digital channel, CinéCinéma, gave us access to a CNC grant. Cuba represented about 30% of the budget thanks to ICAIC’s [Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos] contribution of its archive material, as well as editing facilities. Brazil brought about 15% of the budget, our partner being producer Filmes Do Serro, which sold the show to Canal Brasil. After that, the documentary sold pretty much everywhere in Latin America.

“The battle is hard but it’s worth it. In years to come, the crisis in Europe and the development of South American countries may establish more of an economic balance between the two continents. I also believe we are closer to Latin America in terms of culture than we are with Asia, for instance. And sometimes it’s when you have no money you become more creative.”

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