Françoise Guyonnet, executive managing director of TV series at STUDIOCANAL, took part in a NATPE Budapest keynote with World Screen’s Kristin Brzoznowski about the changing nature of the television business and why partnerships and co-production relationships are even more important in the current landscape.
Part of CANAL+ Group, STUDIOCANAL is one of Europe’s leading companies for co-productions, acquisitions, distribution and sales across films and series. It operates directly in three of Europe’s largest markets: France, the U.K. and Germany, but also in Australia and New Zealand. Its film library is one of the most venerable, and its TV business, too, has become quite the force in the international marketplace. Through its production companies like TANDEM in Germany and RED in the U.K.—along with partnerships with the Danish SAM Productions, the U.K.’s Guilty Party Pictures, Benedict Cumberbatch’s own SunnyMarch and Spain’s Bambú, among others—STUDIOCANAL has been developing and distributing a wealth of high-end scripted series. Last year, STUDIOCANAL launched a new label in France, STUDIOCANAL Original, as well. Guyonnet has been leading these efforts, serving as head of TV within STUDIOCANAL’s production division since 2017.
“It’s a very interesting time” in the international television business, Guyonnet told NATPE Budapest attendees. “There are more and more opportunities for sure, everybody wants to acquire TV series, but it’s also a very challenging time because budgets are increasing and it’s now difficult for a producer to have just one commissioner and some local soft money. We need to make more and more co-productions and presales to launch a [project].”
She said STUDIOCANAL can be particularly helpful to producers in this regard. “We have eight different [production] companies, and what we try to bring to our producers, first of all, is that we let them be completely free from a creative point of view. You cannot ask a producer to do something they do not want to do. They have creative freedom.”
Also, as STUDIOCANAL is well known for its movie business, with some 6,000 films, “It can be a very nice opportunity for our producer [partners] to also dig in the catalog and find some nice IP or formats,” for example, a British show being adapted in the French language by another producer.
“With the help of Rola Bauer [managing director of STUDIOCANAL TV], we help them to pre-finance their project with international co-production. With Beatriz Campos [head of international sales] and her team, we also bring some support on distribution,” Guyonnet added.
She noted that STUDIOCANAL is actively looking for new production partners, especially because CANAL+ Group is expanding more and more in Europe—including through the recent acquisition of M7. “M7 is based in Benelux, Germany and Eastern Europe, so we are looking for partners in these territories especially,” she said, pointing to Poland in particular.
“Today CANAL+ represents a base of almost 20 million subscribers, in France, Poland, all the M7 territories, Africa, Vietnam, so we are very happy if we can provide some content for them,” Guyonnet said, emphasizing that having platforms with this broad of a reach is a nice opportunity for producers developing content.
She highlighted Years and Years as being a prime example of a successful STUDIOCANAL partnership, working with RED Production Company in the U.K. The Emma Thompson-led six-hour series, penned by Russell T Davies, recently premiered in the U.S. on HBO.
“At the very beginning, it was not co-produced by HBO; it was commissioned by the BBC, and CANAL+ came on board very early,” Guyonnet explained. “It gave us the size and ambition [needed] for the series. Thanks to BBC and CANAL+, we had the opportunity to work with the fabulous Emma Thompson, which does help a lot I think, but also the amazing scripts from Russell T Davies. It does help to have HBO U.S. on board. It is a great example of how you can make a series grow from a local series to an international one.”
She said that Years and Years has the exact essence of the type of series STUDIOCANAL looks for. “Our goal at STUDIOCANAL is to find the kind of story that is local, with a local cast and local writers, but that can be sold internationally. This is a good example of what we want to produce.”
Another successful partnership STUDIOCANAL has is with Spain’s Bambú Producciones. Guyonnet pointed out that Bambú had been working with all the major Spanish broadcasters, but has now started to work internationally, including with Netflix and Amazon. This year it has produced two series with Movistar+, including On Death Row, which she said is a “good example of the kind of story that can travel very well,” as it’s based on a true-crime story that’s still ongoing.
Third-party deals are also still of interest to STUDIOCANAL, Guyonnet told the audience. “We are always looking for good stories, high-end stories that can travel. We work a lot with our own producers, and they all have amazing development slates, but we also like working with other producers.”
An example is Sanctuary, a psychological thriller that is produced by Scandinavia’s Yellow Bird (in co-production with TMG) and sold by STUDIOCANAL.
When evaluating third-party deals, there are certain elements that the company keeps an eye out for. “We are really looking for European DNA,” Guyonnet said. “That’s what we know how to sell and how to produce. We are looking for European stories that can resonate internationally.”
Regarding language, she said that while English is a bit easier to sell, the STUDIOCANAL catalog is quite diverse. “There are more and more foreign-language slots internationally, and people get used to that, so language is not an issue, but you need a very strong story, so the first thing is to read the script.”
As for what makes a drama work internationally, Guyonnet said, “There is no recipe!” However, “When you can interest different territories, we believe it can resonate internationally,” which is why co-production helps. “Then there are stories that can resonate with people because they are very emotional or very frightening. It has to play on the emotions.”
Also, as STUDIOCANAL has a footprint across many different territories—with offices in France, Germany, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, China and the U.S.—“the whole team is reading scripts. We spend a lot of time discussing projects, to make sure that more than one [group of people] would be interested. But, I am also always saying to the team, If you are really convinced, you have to claim it, stand up for it! Production is about conviction, and you have to be sure that you want to work on a project.”
Guyonnet said that the companies STUDIOCANAL is working with “are all very different, but they are all demanding about the scripts, they are developing high-end stories. We share the same vision of the editorial line. When we meet new potential partners, we start to discuss, first of all, the artistic vision, then about business.”
When asked about how STUDIOCANAL’s TV business can benefit for the recent M7 acquisition, Guyonnet said that it’s still early days, but “I was very happy to know that we have a new platform now,” and that they’re exploring synergies.
She added that STUDIOCANAL is always looking for synergies within the larger CANAL+ and Vivendi groups. “I’m working a lot with Editis, which is the second biggest publisher in France,” which was acquired by Vivendi at the beginning of this year. “They publish 4,000 books a year, and they have a catalog of 46,000 books, so it’s a huge back catalog! I’m sure that we can find really nice stories and nice IP in that catalog.”
Universal Music is also part of the Vivendi group and is “also a very nice partner, to develop some stories around music,” Guyonnet said. “We have a lot of opportunities, and as soon as a new partner comes into the group, STUDIOCANAL and CANAL+ are always very used to trying to find some synergies.”