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The stories behind the news.

Election casts uncertainty over French factual market

Sunnyside of the Doc in La Rochelle

SUNNYSIDE: The French documentary market remains robust but uncertainty over the outcome of the country’s upcoming election and its bearing on public service broadcasting is causing concern within the industry.

Producers and distributors attending Sunnyside of the Doc in La Rochelle this week have pointed towards the support of government body the CNC (Centre National du Cinéma & de l’Image Animée) and unwavering commitment among local commissioners as reasons why the French factual sector is bearing up better than places like the US and the UK.

But centrist president Emmanuel Macron’s surprise decision to head to the ballots, after far-right parties made gains in European parliamentary elections earlier this month, has cast further doubt over a media landscape that was already heading for controversial reforms.

Prior to Macron setting June 30 and July 7 as dates for a two-step process in selecting the country’s next prime minister, culture minister Rachida Dati had already pushed through a plan to merge France Télévisions (FTV), Radio France and INA – the country’s national audiovisual archive – to create a new entity called France Médias, dubbed by some a ‘French-style BBC’.

The far-right National Rally party of Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen – now in the frame to gain power – is, however, intent on privatising FTV and Radio France in a move it says would free up €3bn (US$3.2bn).

Mathieu Béjot

“Compared to other countries, we are fortunate – we have broadcasters that invest fairly heavily in documentary and CNC provides a lot of support. Having said that, the European elections kind of changed everything,” Sunnyside head of strategy and development Mathieu Béjot told C21.

“Right now, everybody is on edge because we’re trying to see what’s going to come out of the French elections and where public service broadcasting is going.”

“For French producers, it’s probably easier than in other countries because we have this very strong ecosystem of public subsidies and support from CNC. France Télévisions, Arte and Canal+ commission or pre-buy a lot of documentaries – one-offs but also series,” added Federation Studios’ head of documentaries Miryam Weil.

“But right now the result of this election is totally uncertain. As of today, we don’t know who will be the next prime minister and, of course, the political agenda of these different parties are not the same at all when it comes to public broadcasters and public radio.”

Arte, which is a state-funded pubcaster owned jointly by France and Germany, is not part of Dati’s France Médias vision and National Rally has also pledged its continued support for the network along with news channel France 24.

“From my point of view, we can’t have only private companies and it’s important to have an efficient public service that can bring information and education. In a good society, you should have both, and we are optimistic that we will still have a role to play,” said Arte Distribution head of international distribution and marketing Joséphine Létang.

Joséphine Létang

Isabelle Graziadey, VP of international coproductions and distribution at factual prodco Terranoa and head of coproductions at parent Gedeon Media Group, meanwhile, said she wasn’t keen on either option.

“Whenever there’s a big merger like this diversity shrinks and slots shrink,” she said. “We have an economic situation where we need to be careful about how we allocate public funding – that’s true everywhere – but I always think these big mergers are counter-productive.”

Graziadey added that the idea of privatising FTV and Radio France didn’t make sense either in the present financial environment. “There’s no one who will buy these channels,” she said, favouring the creation instead of “more powerful public services with big streaming platforms.”

The exec noted Salto – the ill-fated streaming joint-venture from FTV, TF1 Group and M6 Group that was shut down last year – had been a good idea in this vein but had come too late. “Those are the synergies that would make sense,” said Graziadey.

“Roughly 50% of all investment in factual content in Europe is actually coughed up by the public broadcasters so we had better watch very carefully what happens with them,” warned Patrick Hoerl, MD of German producer-distributor Autentic.