Talking TV: TV5Monde Courts U.S. Audiences With Francophone Programming

TVNewsCheck’s Michael Depp talks with Patrice Courtaban, EVP of global growth and development for TV5Monde and CEO of TV5Monde U.S. about the multinational broadcaster’s growth plans in the francophone and Francophile U.S. market and beyond, and how streaming is helping broaden its reach. A full transcript of the conversation is included.

TV5Monde is a global Francophone entertainment, culture and news brand that has been making inroads in the U.S. for decades. Via streaming, it has widened its distribution footprint even further, and it’s looking to build an audience beyond just French speakers.

In this week’s Talking TV conversation, Patrice Courtaban, EVP of global growth and development for TV5Monde and CEO of TV5Monde U.S., explains how the brand is trying to do that, tapping a deeper American vein of Francophilia and cultural curiosity about the French-speaking world. Budding relationships with vMVPDs on streaming and a diminished American aversion to subtitles is helping its efforts greatly.

Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.

Michael Depp: Si vous parlez francais et vous regardez la television aux Etas-Unis, probablement vous connaissez TV5Monde. If you have no idea what I just said, then you may not be familiar with TV5Monde.

I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV, the podcast that brings you smart conversations about the business of broadcasting. Just ahead, a conversation with Patrice Courtaban, EVP of global growth and business development for TV5Monde and CEO of TV5Monde U.S. about the market for French-language television media brand in the U.S. and how streaming is playing a role in its expansion.

Bonjour et bienvenue Patrice Courtaban a Talking TV.


Patrice Courtaban: Bonjour, Michael. Thank you for having me today.

Well, thanks for being here. Patrice, for the uninitiated, can you please explain what TV5Monde is, who owns it, and where one can find it?

Absolutely. So TV5Monde is the global French-language television network. We’re actually more than a network because today we have 12 channels worldwide and also a newly launched streaming platform. So TV5Monde is available across the globe. We are in 211 countries today. We reach 422 million homes worldwide. So, we’re one of the most widely distributed television networks on a global level. And we have about 60 million users today that are watching one of the TV segments released somewhere, someone on the planet.

It’s really a partnership between public television services from several countries, which include France, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, the province of Quebec as well. Anda few months ago, Monaco has joined as a new partner of TV5Monde. So that was very exciting news to start the year with the new partner. And we’re going to be adding more content as well originated from Monaco in the coming months.

And when these countries are partners, do you mean the governments of the countries or public broadcasters inside of those countries?

The actual shareholders are the public broadcaster from these respective countries. The shareholder representing France is France Television, which is, you know, the largest public television group. It has four broadcast networks in France. From Canada, our partner is Radio-Canada.

So, there is more than one channel under this umbrella, is there not?

Yes, exactly. I think what makes us very unique is that we’re real global. We’re actually a general entertainment network. If you look at the landscape, there are very few general entertainment worldwide networks. And that creates immediately a lot of challenges, you know, because if you have news, you know, you can provide the world with a feed of viewers across the globe. You know, they just expect to watch news at any time. But with general entertainment, with movies and news and cooking shows, lifestyle programs, children’s programs, you know, people just expect to see certain things at a certain time of the day, whether you’re in Japan or in in India or in the U.S. And so just because of that, we have to manage multiple feeds.

Today we have nine feeds of the main TV five networks with its own schedule, local programing as well, just to make sure that wherever we are in the world, we address properly the real core audience, of course, in terms of schedule, but also in terms of content that we can offer for the region. As you were introducing this discussion, of course, French languages and culture is our DNA. But the opportunity for us is much broader than only, you know, French speakers worldwide. We actually subtitle today in 13 languages, which allows us to reach a much wider audience. Of course, you know, English, Spanish, Portuguese, but we also offer traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Romanian, just to just to name a few languages. It’s very important for us to offer this access to a much wider audience on the planet.

And Netflix has sort of taken away the impediment of subtitles that so many found just a few years ago before international shows on Netflix became so popular with subtitles.

I have to say, you know, so we’ve been around for 40 years, and that’s a very long time for a TV network. But, you know, 20 years ago, the idea of subtitles was not as obvious, you know, in certain part of the world. But I think over the last few decades, audiences, you know, getting used to subtitles through, of course, theatrical release, but also with the new platforms, you know, Netflix. So, in a way it’s been good for us that viewers around the globe are consuming programs with subtitles on a larger scale.

Since we’re talking about the U.S. here, if one is watching TV5Monde in the U.S., what sort of programing is unique to this market and how much, if anything, that you’re producing is actually produced Stateside?

In the U.S., we are a premium television service, so that means that we bring more recent movies from the last year. Very often there’s a big appetite in the U.S., as you probably know, for international and French cinema. That’s always been a big part of our programing in the U.S. We offer our documentaries. We offer our news. We produce up to six hours of news programs every day: newscasts, talk shows, current affairs. We have a lot of lifestyle programs.

Again, there’s a big appetite in the U.S. for fashion trends, travel. We have a great show now called The 100 Places That You Must See in France. It’s really a nice journey across France. Many places that people didn’t know about, even for French people, actually. It’s a great program. We have a lot of interest for this type of content in the U.S.

Let me step back, Patrice, to the news part of that. Are you talking about globally produced news or that produced for a global audience in French or is there a U.S. version of this?

The newscast is all produced from our studio in Paris. We have our own editorial room, but we actually work with correspondents worldwide. We have our own correspondents in the U.S., pretty much everywhere in Asia. But the great thing, you know, having all these partners, we can also work with and collaborate with the news department from France TV or Radio-Canada.

Which is re-edited for a North American audience?

We know it’s the primetime newscast for the for the U.S. audience, so we try to do more targeted reports as well.

I want to talk to you about the distribution. I understand that in your tenure at TV5Monde, you’ve dramatically widened the U.S. distribution footprint. Right now, how many Americans can access this channel and where can they get it?

Today we are reaching more than 50 million American on cable, satellite, telco households. And we also now have a streaming offering. As you know, in our industry, distribution has always been one of the main challenges. And, you know, in the U.S. as international programing, it may even take longer to reach all the strategic agreements with Comcast or Cox or Spectrum. But they are critical because we talk a lot about streaming, which, of course, has been growing and it’s definitely a big way of watching video content today, but still, the U.S. is still the No. 1 market for pay TV in the world. From the early days, it was very strategic for us to secure all these agreements.

Streaming has now opened up some new platforms and some audience development opportunities for you. Where are you now available? Are you part of some vMVPDs?

We’ve worked with several virtual MVPDs, which is a great way to for us to be able to offer more content because we’ve seen that they may not have the same type of bandwidth constraints that, let’s say traditional MVPD would have. We’ve launched five additional channels on virtual MVPDs. Also, we work today with Sling TV. We are also available on Fubo, and you can find up to six TV5Monde services, which include the main channel to a standalone U.S. lifestyle channel, and a kids network with the latest cartoons.

The French language is still a very [important] presence in schools in the U.S., so there’s a there’s a high demand for kids’ content. We have a documentary service and a movie SVOD service as well. I was saying earlier, between all the various services that you would get in the TV package in the U.S., we offer about 500 feature films per year through the subscription, and that’s not including, of course, the TV series and other programs that we have.

Now in addition to that, we launched TV5Monde+, which is our streaming platform where you can get thousands of additional titles and it’s included in your subscription. If you are a subscriber of TV5Monde, even on cable, you can still access all this additional content via streaming if you want. We are available on all the major platforms, all the TV apps, and this week we have just actually launched the TV5Monde+ app on the Roku. We think we bring a lot of value for to our subscribers in the U.S.

If you are not a cable subscriber and you are not an vMVPD subscriber, is there a standalone version right now, either an SVOD or and AVOD version? Or is there one in the works to get to potential subscribers?

Right now, the service is tied to a subscription. We value the partnerships with these companies in the U.S., I think, as an international programmer. Now, for us, it’s been very strategic to work with them because they also have resources locally, you know, for marketing, especially online and still a lot of things that that it would be very challenging for us to deploy as a as a standalone service. So as of today, we still see tremendous value with working with our partners on the distribution of the of the services. And I think that what has helped us as well not to fall into niche segment, but in a way remain part of the mainstream offering in the U.S.

Speaking of niche, we know there’s a considerable market for Spanish-language television in the U.S. and that’s reflected, obviously, in a diverse range of channels and local stations alike that are available here. But what about French? What is your potential audience size in the U.S.? Is this a smaller niche? We have Francophone parts of the country. I live in New Orleans and here in southeastern Louisiana there is a Francophone community and the northeastern Maine and parts of Vermont. You have your pockets are Francophone, but it’s not like Spanish. So, what’s your growth potential there?

There’s many sides of French culture and language in the U.S. As you mentioned, French is still spoken in Louisiana and Maine, and we do several initiatives there to support the culture. But the bigger initiative is really the people who have an interest in the culture or maybe they love traveling to France or to Europe. They have an interest in international cinema. Their kids are learning French at school, or they’re just interested in fashion and trends. French is still the second most taught foreign language in U.S. schools after Spanish. We estimate there’s at least 20 million-plus people who’ve studied French in the U.S. and still are able to speak to some extent, or at least could have an interest in watching some content.

But the Francophile opportunities are much wider than that. I know it’s difficult to capture, but just to give you an example, we have another TV channel just available in American hotels, and we reach about one million hotel rooms across the country. That generates a huge number of viewers every month. That’s not just French people staying in American hotels, but that shows us that there’s an appetite among travelers for the content. Sometimes people don’t speak the language, but they’re still very interested in the content.

To give you an example, we just released earlier this month on TV+ a new documentary film that we produced about Jean-Michel Basquiat. This is a very big topic right now in the U.S., the arts. And we draw a much wider audience to our platform because we brought a new perspective on the work that he did with African artists. There are opportunities for us to create awareness and bring unique content to American viewers, whether they’re French speakers, Francophile, or just want to watch something different.

Well, Patrice Courtaban, interesting stuff. It’ll be interesting to see how far you can widen, but you’ve got quite a distribution footprint already, so we’ll see what kind of viewership TV5Monde can continue to build. We are out of time, so merci beaucoup for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you very much, Michael. It was a pleasure.

You can watch past episodes of Talking TV on our TVN videos page at TVNewsCheck. com, which of course you should be checking in with constantly for continuously updated industry news and information. We will be back next week with another Talking TV. And of course, you can catch us on YouTube, where I encourage you to follow and like our videos. See you all next time. Thank you.

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