Q&A: TF1’s Marie Guillaumond

November 30, 2016

One on one

TF1’s head of French drama Marie Guillaumond tells DQ how the drama boom is building in France and how she hopes to work with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon.

As part of C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, currently underway in London, Drama Quarterly asked some of the biggest names in the television drama industry about their thoughts on the business.

Here, Marie Guillaumond (above), head of French drama at French broadcaster TF1, talks about working with bestselling author Harlan Coben and building budgets to pay for the ambitious drama series now demanded by audiences.

What was your biggest hit of 2016 and why?
French series are becoming increasingly successful on TF1, hitting records for the fourth year in a row in 2015/16. I ‘d like two highlight two programmes that are particularly in line with our editorial strategy. Une Chance de Trop (No Second Chance) has been an extraordinary journey with Harlan Coben. No Second Chance marks the first French TV adaptation of a book by the bestselling writer and it was also the author’s first time as a showrunner. This breathtaking thriller was a massive success with 8.7 million viewers (35% market share and 38% of women) – our biggest hit in 2015. The series was a hit outside of France as well and sold to 65 territories, including the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Central and Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Benelux.
Le Secret d’Elise, the local adaptation of Marchlands, attracted 8.3 million viewers (29% market share and 37% of women, which is our prior market target). This mini-event is a high-end drama and stands out by mixing various genres such as thriller, family saga and supernatural, but also by the quality of the directing and its great cast.

Une Chance de Trop
Author Harlan Coben was showrunner for TF1’s Une Chance de Trop (No Second Chance)

What is currently informing your development strategy?
Over the last three years we have changed our editorial strategy in a very bold way, exploring new topics, edgier fare, more diversified artistic perspectives and going into serialised dramas. We have also diversified our talent, appealing to many coming from the French film industry. These initiatives have been very successful and have been appreciated both by the audience and the industry. This was very important for us as we want to renew French drama along with our partners. The next step was to take these experiments to the next level by offering regular high-end dramas to the audience, while reinforcing our traditional schedule with the arrival of new characters. The outstanding results achieved in 2016 show that taking risks is necessary.
Another challenge for TF1 is to think about original creation from a 360-degree perspective. By mixing freemium, pay, linear and non-linear broadcast, we can not only build on our traditional audience but also grab new and young viewers. All our original creations are available on [VoD platform] MYTF1 and we are also creating digital extensions of all these titles.
In the past five years we have maintained excellent market shares for original creations and have even garnered new audiences, especially in the 15-24 target group, which has seen a 5% increase.

Is the drama boom the new normal or do you see the market contracting?
The drama boom is a recent phenomenon in France. It is among the audience’s favourite genres. Local series have evolved a lot, by renewing genres, exploring unusual topics and introducing more provocative angles. The quality of format adaptations has also improved, with such shows now fully localised, integrating into our way of life and our culture. In a way, adaptation is creation.
The risk is not the audience appetite, it is the financing model. All the players in France look forward to a greater profitability.

Le Secret d'Elise
Le Secret d’Elise was adapted from ITV’s Marchlands

How has your commissioning process changed over the past year?
French dramas were previously driven by the 90-minute format. This was a guarantee of good quality, but production of such shows was on a small scale. The appetite for series, and for returning characters, forced the TV industry to change and to make the international 52-minute format a standard in France as well. This is one of the reasons French series now sell better internationally.

What’s the biggest challenge for you at present?
To pursue a strategy of high-quality drama and find innovative financing structures to improve profitability. And to increase the international reach of our series while also improving our traditional audience in France and reaching out to new audiences by implementing new consumption models.

What does the drama industry need to address in order to survive and prosper?
Original creation is expensive. We are looking to find new financing models and are willing to work with new partners, such as Netflix or Amazon. Alongside partners, we hope to identify said models and are exploring how to structure windows to adapt to modern consumption. As long as original creations can find a place on TF1, we will continue to explore.
The international expansion of French content is also critical to survive.

What story/genre would you like on your slate that you don’t have?
A 26-minute daily series for our summer schedule.

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