French Animation in Focus


The third day of the TV Kids Festival opened this morning with a panel on the French animation landscape with Xilam Animation’s Marc du Pontavice, Superprod’s Clément Calvet and Dandelooo’s Emmanuèle Pétry-Sirvin.

The session, France Toons In, was moderated by Chelsea Regan, managing editor of TV Kids, exploring what’s driving the sector at present and what new regulations surrounding local content quotas mean for the industry.

The French animation segment is “bubbling” right now, said Pétry-Sirvin, co-founder and producer at Dandelooo. “There’s a lot of development and production going on, preparing for this revolution that is happening. Basically, we’re moving out of the traditional model, which is working with local linear TV and the CNC [Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée] and building the blocks that way. Now, it’s going to become like a festival of many projects and more diversity on the creative side because we can now develop things that are serialized, that are for older kids, different formats. Everything seems to be possible. It will be a challenging time as well because we have to reinvent the system.”

Larger companies are expected to fare better in this shift, Pétry-Sirvin said, adding, “It’s also going to create some challenges with the traditional linear broadcasters, so they don’t feel alienated by the new system,” she said.

Du Pontavice, the president of Xilam Animation, agreed with Pétry-Sirvin’s assessment of the market. “It feels like jumping from a pond to an ocean. We used to work with a very rigid system, creatively and business-wise, with the same partners. It’s not they were not good partners, but they were the same for many years, with very rigid conceptions of what kids should be consuming in animation. The linear broadcasting system is very narrow-minded somehow, so it was an exercise to reinvent yourself always within the same frame. Now it’s very different.”

The Xilam Animation head then pondered if the kids’ sector is splitting into two very different camps: “on one side the big global platforms and on the other domestic [players],” with two radically different types of content and very different budget levels.

He continued, “Up until five, ten years ago, it would take years to get a show all over the world, if you even succeeded in doing this. Now, suddenly you push a button and you’re broadcast in 200 countries! It’s great.”

Calvet, president and producer at Superprod, added that he’s excited to bring a higher level of talent and quality to the company’s output. “We were always limited somehow by the budgets and the capacity to push as far as possible the quality of the work we provide.” The doors are now open for Superprod to “deliver the material we’ve always wanted to provide and to show to the world that the French animation industry is strong, there’s still a lot to say and a lot to show to the world. There’s a lot of talent coming back from the U.S. and Canada because they can feel the opportunity here is getting bigger and bigger.”

Regan asked the panelists about what the global streaming wars have meant for them in terms of experimenting with new types of content.

“We’ve been used to thinking in a certain way because we had to please a market and broadcasters that would air shows in a moment in time where every kid would be watching,” Calvet stated. “We had to propose something that was likable by the biggest number of people. This sometimes means compromise and not taking as much risk as you would like to. The platforms have a different approach because they are leaning on subscribers and they are pushing the limits. They don’t seem to be afraid to try to push things as far as possible. There’s a demand for new narratives and new risks in storytelling. I think that’s good for everyone.”

Building on Calvet’s comments, Dandelooo’s Pétry-Sirvin added, “For many years, there was a huge demand for brands and well-known properties. It was very difficult to break through if it wasn’t well-known and not part of a whole 360-degree property. I’m not saying that still doesn’t exist—there are a lot of platforms and broadcasters asking for brands—but [there is now] an opportunity to create original creator-driven properties. The platforms can bid on a good idea, a good team of talented people, even if it’s not well known. That is a highway for creativity and imagination. The competition is still fierce, of course, but it opens a lot of doors to create the brands of the future.”

Xilam’s du Pontavice noted that now that French-produced fare is sitting alongside productions from the major studios on many streaming platforms, “it’s strong and fierce competition. You have to sit on the same service as Nickelodeon or DreamWorks or the others. When you’re working for the local broadcasters, it is somewhat different because the competition is not as big. You’re trying to exist next to the biggest players. It’s very exciting, but it’s very challenging. The streamers want something new and different, but you’re competing with so many programs. Capturing an audience on a streaming service is very difficult. Linear channels will try to connect the kids with your show. You turn on the television and the show is there. On a VOD platform, it’s a different ballgame.”

That leads to another risk on the creative side, Pétry-Sirvin added. “Because you need to catch the eyeballs and not let them go, [a show] has to have stickiness. That means you have to create more events, more cliffhanger situations. You have to pack everything together to make sure the spectator will never get their eyes off the screen. It has to be faster and very spicy; it’s all the sugar and salt and oil that makes you want to eat more and more. That is good when it speeds things up that are too slow, but at the same time, there’s a risk.”

The SVOD platforms have particularly opened up the serialized space, du Pontavice added. “It’s a very different way of working in terms of the writing. It requires different expertise. And it’s rather recent in France. We’ve been exposed to mostly a demand for episodic series. [Serialized shows] ask for experience that is more developed in drama than animation. But I love it. Animation is just broadening its frontiers, its boundaries. Animation is suddenly capable of getting into territories that were once limited to live action.”

Regan asked the panelists to talk more about the new directive calling on the global streamers to commit to European content. “There are two sides to that,” du Pontavice said. “One, it’s very different from one platform to another. Netflix is very well equipped with European material. I don’t think they are at 30 percent yet, but they’re probably not far from that, especially since the U.K. counts among the European quota. The other ones are different. Disney, I read somewhere their European content is about 3 percent of their library.” Apple TV+ is also far behind, du Pontavice said. “I’m sure they will try to match this by purchasing a lot of libraries. They’re not ready to fill the obligations with new content.”

More significant, du Pontavice said, is the investment obligation for French production by the streamers. This will “favor the animation sector,” he said. “First, speaking in terms of numbers, in 2020, the turnover of all SVOD platforms was about €1.5 billion. It’s expected to reach €3 billion sometime in 2025. So 20 percent of that will have to be spread among the local premium content. My bet is probably 20 percent of that will go towards animation. Why is that? Because animation is the ideal content that can serve the global needs of a platform. The industry in France is so strong. I think we are ideally placed to take advantage of that investment.” Over the next three to five years, du Pontavice expects the French animation business to grow by 50 percent.

Discussing the legacy of the French animation sector, du Pontavice said, “There are three things that make us very strong. First is a cultural history towards pictorial materials, whether it’s illustrations, comics, paintings. We have a very strong talent base in France. Second is the school system, which is amazing. And our references are very diverse. The U.S. industry is very American-centric. The Japanese industry is very Japanese-centric. Europe, specifically France, is great because we welcome all different references in animation and we’re creating our own version of all of that. That makes us very creative, at least from a visual standpoint.”

The fact that American studios are coming to French art schools to recruit is a validation of the local industry’s strength, Pétry-Sirvin said. “We have to be able to give them really good projects,” she said. “Otherwise, they will go into the Hollywood industry.”

“We have arrived at a moment when we have everything in place,” Calvet said. “We have all the tools to start this new era. We’re ready for competition and we’re eager to show everyone how we can propose great stuff.”