Is Netflix changing the way the French do television?

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France has a long history of rejecting American cultural imports. In fact, France has fought long and hard to protect its cultural heritage from global and commercial interests.

Although the French have watched television since the 1950s, until 1982 the state did not allow private television or radio channels, and even today much of French television is public television. . (Which doesn’t exist in the United States – even PBS, generally considered “public” television, is in fact a non-profit organization, not a government-run organization like in France.)

In 1993, France made this belief system explicit and legally defined by what is called “cultural exception,” which was coined during the negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. . The cultural exception meant that the agreement, which opened up international trade between several countries, could not oblige countries to accept cultural imports in the same way as they would accept other goods and services. This loophole allows France to institute quotas on the amount of non-French content that can appear in their cinemas, on their radio waves and in their set-top boxes.

Concretely, 40% of television programs broadcast on French television must be French, and 60% must be European. (The radio is subject to similar quotas for French music.) Taxes are levied on international imports, and these tax revenues are then used to subsidize French film and television production. Even large French cable conglomerates like Canal+ are subject to restrictions which, on the whole, for the benefit of independent French film and television producers.

And what does that mean in terms of content? “Thanks to state subsidies, French television no longer deals with what sells,” says Julie Fette, associate professor of French studies at Rice University, who teaches courses on contemporary French media. Low viewership of shows on public channels does not equate to automatic cancellation if the show is deemed to have cultural or intellectual merit, as advertisers and audiences do not need to be wooed in the same way what they do in the united states

They also don’t need to be so scared of offending viewers. just look The Guignols, the satirical puppet show known to everyone in France for confusing political and cultural figures. “They do things on TV which would mostly be banned in the United States, even though The Guignols also pushed back the French borders,” says Fette. The same blasphemy laws don’t exist, nor do the extreme sex and nudity taboos found in the United States, so producers can take a lot of risks without worrying as much about losing their funding.

But as hard as France worked to keep Americans out, they couldn’t stop Netflix. The streaming giant, which began producing content in French in 2014, eventually opened an office in Paris in early 2020, likely in response to the French government’s obligation to dedicate 25% of their turnover in France financing the national production of French content. The results were mixed, with early flops like drama Marseilles countered by critical and commercial successes like Ten percent (Call my agent!) and Lupine.

Lupinereleased in January, became the first French show to leave the Netflix Top 10 in the USA, peaking at No. 2. Not surprising, given the show’s mega-star, Omar Sy, as well as the show’s inspiration, literary hero/gentleman burglar Arsène Lupin, a staple of classic French literature. Corn LupineThe showrunner of , George Kay, is British, the show was produced by Gaumont, a French production company, and therefore most of the production team is French.

Call my agent! is about as French as it gets and was partially produced by France 2, a French public television channel. Its success, even before the writing and acting of the series could speak for itself, was practically guaranteed by a gimmick in which a famous French actor or actress appears in each episode as himself, as client of the show’s fictional talent agency.

These two series are very French”, confirms Fette. “I’m sure they’re also trying to appeal beyond France, because the French market is so small,” she continues, but the theme seems to be that Netflix money supporting local talent seems to be producing very good material. Yes, it will be Netflix-ified, to some degree. “What I see is a standardization, a globalization of the style and content of these series,” says Fette. But maybe there is a way for internationalization and French content to coexist without one cannibalizing the other?

There’s one way the French takeover of Netflix could be a blessing in disguise: diversity. Although the French CSA tries to push media companies towards equal representation of women and minorities, there is often a backlash against diversity quotas. For a reputation-conscious global company, however, the opposite may be true. “American television still has a long way to go in diversifying its fiction offerings, but French producers may still be a little further behind in terms of diverse casting and inventing diverse characters who play positive roles” , Fette says of the French media. “Perhaps the beauty of Netflix and the internationalization of the media is that in fact it would force the question a little more in France… Otherwise, the media are doing a disservice, and of course perpetuating a vision of France which is inaccurate, which is outdated, and that was never even accurate.

France will never abandon Netflix, but that doesn’t mean the relationship has to be negative. The French government has always fought to support niche film and TV projects, freed from the constraints of traditional advertising-based revenue systems…similar, ironically, to what Netflix is ​​doing now. So as long as they can keep the company in check, there’s no reason why French directors, actors and producers shouldn’t continue to tell stories that represent all of France, and that can be watched by everyone. world.

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