Films and series, French soft power



The arrival in force, in recent years, of streaming platforms (Netflix, Amazon, etc.) has considerably upset the audiovisual landscape and made the border between small and large screen increasingly porous. It has also contributed to providing new possibilities in terms of financing and international visibility for French productions. With the hope, for French films and series, of conquering new markets abroad.

It was to adapt to this new situation and to a rapidly changing market that UniFrance, the body responsible for supporting films for export, merged just a year ago with TV France International, its equivalent for the audiovisual sector. A “old sea serpent”underlines Serge Toubiana, the president of UniFrance, but who had become essential “taking into account the evolution of the landscape and the professions” in these two sectors.

In addition to cinema, the “new” UniFrance is therefore also responsible for “selling” French know-how internationally in the field of series, animation and documentaries. And thus strengthen its action in terms of “soft power”. A merger widely encouraged by the CNC, which relies heavily on exports, and has endowed this new structure with 3 million euros under the recovery plan.

The export of French films still struggling

The organization has therefore put itself in battle order in a context that is still difficult for the cinema. The drop in cinema attendance affects most countries in the world. The export of French films suffered in 2021, achieving 17 million admissions outside our borders. Projections for 2022 are better, around 25 to 30 million, but still far from the 50 million before the crisis. The leaders of UniFrance, however, see encouraging signs. Some countries, such as the Netherlands or South Korea, have returned to 2019 attendance levels and “families have returned to the cinema”, welcomes Daniela Elstner, its general manager. In the Top 10 French films that have best marketed abroad at the start of 2022, we find The Wolf and the Lion by Gilles de Maistre, King by David Moreau or pile, by Julien Fournet, an animated film.

The French audiovisual sector is doing much better with real successes like Lupine on Netflix – although we don’t know its exact audience – or a series like HPI with Audrey Fleurot, produced for TF1 and sold in many countries. It has accumulated more than 175 million views worldwide. Achievements, like the series Ten percentwhich help to make artists like Camille Cottin or Omar Sy known all over the world and to promote France. “In terms of production, we are the first of the “non-aligned”, that is to say outside the United States and China”emphasizes Serge Toubiana.

Rights management made complex by the platforms

UniFrance therefore intends to take advantage of this momentum to strengthen its presence in all markets and major festivals and communicate more directly with the international public, in particular by creating a YouTube channel by 2023, with interviews and master classes of French artists. The fact remains that the development of platforms, if these constitute a new financial windfall for producers, has “Enormously complexified our business, particularly in terms of rights management”, explains Hervé Michel, vice-president of UniFrance. While productions were sold by country, to channels or to local distributors, they are acquired by platforms for entire regions of the world.

“The risk is that producers become mere providers of these platforms”, warns the president of UniFrance. The transposition of the SMA directive which obliges them to invest in French productions should normalize the situation, hopes Daniela Elstner: “At the market in Cannes, the platforms were less aggressive than in previous years. Perhaps they are integrating into the ecosystem and will they become partners like the others? »

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