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Smart thinking from the people running the content business.

Keeping int'l viewers laughing with French comedy

Julia Schulte, senior VP of international sales at France TV Distribution, discusses the surge in global demand for Gallic comedy content and the company’s evolving coproduction strategy.

Julia Schulte

France TV Distribution (FTD), the Paris-based commercial subsidiary of pubcaster France Télévisions, is heading to Unifrance’s Rendez-Vous marketplace in Biarritz next week to stage a gala premiere screening of its comedy series Parliament.

First broadcast in 2020 on, the VoD platform of France Télévisions, the political satire (locally titled Parlement) has been a big hit for FTD in both Europe and further afield.

At Rendez-Vous, FTD will roll out the red carpet for special guests and cast members of Parliament – including creator Noe Debre, plus actors Xavier Lacaille and Liz Kingsman – as delegates get their first glimpse of the first episode from the upcoming third season (10×26′).

Produced by Cinétévé and Studio Hamburg Serienwerft, the show stars Lacaille as a political consultant who must choose between his values, his career and romance as he navigates life in the Belgian capital of Brussels.

“Rendez-Vous is the perfect place to launch the new season as it is 100% a European show,” says Julia Schulte, senior VP of international sales at FTD.

“Parliament is an outstanding political satire and it’s very rare that a French show features such an international cast. As well as being very popular in France, it has also had a brilliant reception in Germany, where ARD is a coproducer of the show.

“Outside of Europe, the first client to join the Parliament club was the streamer Topic in the US. That was very important to us because it proved that even though the series is rooted in Europe, it can travel to countries like the US and Canada.”

The first episode of Parliament’s upcoming third season will screen at Rendez-Vous

Also licensed into territories such as the Czech Republic, Malaysia and Switzerland, the success of Parliament speaks to the emerging global demand for comedy content from France.

This trend is perhaps best exemplified by Call My Agent, another title distributed by FTD that has been adapted in numerous countries, including Turkey, India, Poland, Korea, Indonesia and the UK.

“The fact French content possesses great satirical humour was perhaps not recognised until around five years ago,” says Schulte. “French writers are able to create deep and transgressive characters with a kind of dark comedy, which works extremely well at the moment in French fiction.”

The comedic element also bleeds into another genre of programming that has proved fruitful for FTD – light crime.

One example of this is Bright Minds, which is made by JLA Productions and originally aired on France 2. The series follows a police detective who finds a brilliant partner in a young autistic woman who works in the police records bureau and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of criminal investigations.

FTD has licensed the show to Japanese pubcaster NHK, as well as Discovery in Italy, Fox in Portugal and Africa, Walter Presents in the US, and AXN Channel in Latin America.

“Bright Minds is typical of the light crime genre in that it features quite off-the-wall lead characters in a crime drama,” says Schulte. “Some of our biggest recent successes have been within light crime. Bringing almost a comedy aspect to this genre works very well internationally.”

Crime series Bright Minds has been picked up in countries including Japan and Italy

Another crime show being showcased by FTD at Rendez-Vous next week is 4×52’ miniseries French Roulette – A Mother’s Ordeal.

Produced by La Dame de Coeur and Effervescence Fiction for France 2, it’s set in the French Riviera during the 1970s and stars Michele Laroq as a casino operator whose daughter gets caught up in a battle against the mafia.

“French Roulette is based on a real story and taps into the current global demand for true crime content,” says Schulte. “It’s a very stylish show that plays out against the backdrop of the Cote d’Azur.”

With French creative talents pivoting into the TV industry from the world of feature films, it’s not unusual for scripted projects to have cinematic scope. This can provide opportunities for FTD to become involved in a coproduction capacity, rather than just selling finished tape.

“There is now much more ambition in the French content industry,” says Schulte. “This comes from producers understanding that if they want to compete with English-language shows, they need to invest a lot more in writing, development and production.

“That often means bigger budgets and the opportunity for FTD to come in at the early stages as an important partner to help producers find financing, from pre-sales or attaching more local and international copro partners. We can gather all those contacts and negotiate those agreements.”

FTD’s catalogue features 8,000 hours of programming, including hits such as the aforementioned Call My Agent, Jean-Michel Super Caribou and Apocalypse.

French Roulette – A Mother’s Ordeal is based on a true story

Most of the fiction, documentary, animation and feature film content the company distributes finds homes with European broadcasters, but FTD has also had success with selling content to SVoD platforms.

Science-fiction drama-fantasy series Vortex (6×52’), produced by Quad Drama, was picked up by Netflix in 190 countries after debuting on France 2. Youth-skewing drama About Sasha (10×26’, Jerico TV), meanwhile, was first broadcast on France Télévisions’ teen-orientated streamer Slash before being acquired by Disney+ for subscribers in Europe (outside France), the Middle East and Africa.

“The streamers are challenging the traditional channels here in France, but the linear broadcasters remain very strong, so we don’t underestimate that,” says Schulte.

“For us, the streaming market represents a complementary stream of revenue. VoD audiences are perhaps younger than those of the public networks, so we try to find the best homes and windowing opportunities for our content.

“Vortex is one of the most successful recent French drama series on Netflix, and About Sasha performed outstandingly well for a modestly budgeted production streaming on Disney+.

“It’s great that a lot of French fiction is now finding its way to the international market through the streamers, but our main market remains those linear free TV and pay TV broadcasters in countries such as Spain, Italy and Germany.”

About Sasha was picked up by Disney+

FTD offers a wide selection of unscripted and factual programming, with its slate including archaeology-themed 1×90’/52’ documentary special The Lost Civilisation of the Amazon, produced by French Connection for France 5; plus 1×90’/52’ Eiffel Tower: Building the Impossible, from Bleu Kobalt for France 5.

While a lot of distributors are turning their focus to the free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) space as a relatively new market for their content, with some even launching their own FAST channels, Schulte is not totally convinced it represents a significant money-spinner at this point.

“It’s still a very new market and we are definitely exploring this field, but for us the revenues are not very consistent,” she says. “The companies that get the most out of FAST right now are established players like Pluto TV, which got into the market early, and the agencies that get revenue from advertising sales.

“Our biggest challenges at France TV Distribution remain selling content from our catalogue and programme financing. They are much more important to us.”