Philippe Bony, the head of thematic and youth channels at M6 Group, talks to TV Kids about how the company plans to invest in its market-leading kids’ portfolio.
Announcing M6 Group’s bid for much of Lagardère’s channels business last year, the French media company’s chairman, Nicolas de Tavernost, called it a “significant milestone” for the group, “cementing M6’s position in the audiovisual market, making it the leader among younger viewers, while bolstering its status in on-demand TV and providing it with international exposure.” The crown jewel in the acquisition was Gulli, the leading free-to-air digital channel for kids in France, which has been serving its family audience with local originals and imported hits for 15 years. M6 also took control of two well-established pay-TV brands for kids: for the 6 to 12 set, Canal J, which is marking its 35th anniversary this year; and Tiji, which is celebrating 20 years of catering to French preschoolers. The acquisition also brought to M6 a popular catch-up service, Gulli Replay; the SVOD platform Gulli Max; and an international presence with channels in French-speaking Africa and Russia.
TV KIDS: Tell us about the acquisition of the Lagardère kids’ channels. Why did you feel they would be a valuable addition to the M6 Group?
BONY: We are the second private TV group in France. We have three free-to-air, general-entertainment channels. They are already quite family- and women-oriented, especially with regards to M6 and 6ter. Gulli, as a free-to-air channel, was an opportunity to add a new type of programming to cover the whole family. The combination of Gulli with M6 and 6ter allows us to address the entire family with the very positive positioning we have. To be honest, at the time Gulli was selected to be the children’s free-to-air channel in France, M6 also had a proposal to the CSA [for DTT licenses]. We’ve had a couple of discussions in the last 10, 15 years, to try to [acquire] Gulli, so this was not our first try. [The acquisition] was a great opportunity to have these channels in our portfolio.
TV KIDS: How has the integration process gone since announcing the deal last year?
BONY: It was quite simple. We closed the acquisition in September. As of December, we had moved all the teams to the M6 headquarters in Neuilly. Now all the teams are working together. It’s going well. What is interesting is that Gulli is really focused on children, so we are adding a specific block of programming and type of channel [to our free TV offer]. Of course, we had kids’ programming on M6 in the morning, but only two hours a day, five days a week. We haven’t had any significant issues in terms of integration.
TV KIDS: This portfolio is very well established—Canal J has been in the market for 35 years, Tiji for 20 and Gulli for 15. How have they been able to maintain their leadership positions?
BONY: It’s a very competitive market. When Canal J launched 35 years ago, it was the first pay-TV children’s channel in France, maybe even in Europe. And now, there are 17 children’s channels on cable and satellite. It’s fierce competition. What is [beneficial] is the fact that Canal J and Tiji are connected to Gulli, and, of course, to the M6 Group and all of our other pay-TV channels and digital services. That helps to try to create a [complete] offer for kids. Gulli is more a general entertainment kids’ channel, so it’s addressing all ages. With Tiji and Canal J, we have the opportunity to address more specific targets in children’s programming. The combination of all these services is doing well, and I think it helps to maintain Canal J and TiJi in the market.
TV KIDS: I know there are requirements to commission local programming for the channels. How crucial are French shows in strengthening the bond with your audiences?
BONY: It’s major for us. And it’s a real opportunity in France because we have great producers and great talents in terms of animation. For a long time, art schools have been focused on drawings and animation. We have a lot of creativity in France. We are also quite successful on the technological side, so we have been able to create a French touch in animation. We have a lot of French productions on our channels. They give a specific flavor that helps us in France and in our developments abroad. Of course, having these channels join the M6 Group and what we are doing in terms of productions will help to increase and enhance this volume of local production. That is very important to us. We have launched something like 15 new productions since last September. We want to increase and enhance the level of production and diversify the programming we’ll have on all our channels and also on digital. This is the first step in terms of redeveloping and relaunching the channels.
This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Media companies are currently shifting their strategies in the wake of production postponements and economic trends.