French Animation and the US Market: An Interview with Mathieu Béjot

February 21, 2014 | By Romain Rancurel
Mathieu Béjot

On the occasion of the Kidscreen Summit and the second International Emmy® Kids Awards in New York, Sandra Muller, journalist for La lettre de l’Audiovisuel, met with Mathieu Béjot, Executive Director at TV France International, the trade association which promotes French TV programs worldwide, to discuss French animation and its role in the American market.

Sandra Muller: You were in New York just three months ago, what brings you back?

Mathieu Béjot: I was here to support my producers at the Emmy Awards, where two French projects won awards: 5 Broken Cameras, a France Télévisions documentary, and The Returned, shown in France on Canal +. This time, I’m back for the Kidscreen Summit, the children's entertainment industry’s biggest annual event, which draws over 2,000 people from around the world, from producers to channels to creators. I also attended the Kids Emmy Awards, where three French programs were nominated in six categories: Spike 2 (TAT Productions, also behind the Jungle Bunch nominated last year), Zou, produced by Cyber Group and shown on Spark in the United States, and Angelo rules, produced by Teamto. Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything this time, but three nominations out of six is a good start.

SM: The British won four awards at this year's Kids Emmy Awards. Why do you think they did so well?

MB: You sometimes get the feeling that the jury members are more familiar with British animation, even if French animation is fairly well known outside of France. To be perfectly honest, it’s great that we’ve arrived at this level of competition. We’re among the world’s largest exporters of animated films.

SM: How is France doing in terms of exports?

MB: Animation still accounts for 35% of French film exports. Therefore it is an extremely important sector for us given how well it does overseas. We’re the largest producer in Europe, the third largest exporter in the world, so the French animation industry is well established worldwide. We’re talking here about animated series, but feature-length animated films are also doing quite well. Minuscule’s success made that very clear.

SM: What does the US represent for French animation?

MB: It’s an extremely important market, with TV channels established throughout the world such as Cartoon Network, Disney and Spark, all of which we have been working with. In the United States, there are also some really interesting streaming platforms, like Netflix, who are investing substantial amounts in program acquisitions. The American market is very dynamic.

SM: Yet, for some, the American market is a closed one …

MB: Yes, that is true to a certain extent. We often get to work with Disney and Cartoon on a global scale – Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America. But the United States remains a difficult place for foreign productions. 

SM: How would you explain the lack of interest in French animation in the US? Does it have to do with formats or with the length of our animated series, for example?

MB: It has to do with the specifics of the American market, which can be quite protectionist in practice, if not in law. In animation, the stakes are huge, notably in licensing and for derivative products. It’s true that vertically integrated American companies control the production, distribution, and merchandising and therefore tend to favor their own programs. Our conception of a successful program is one that does well on every channel of a group globally. It might be hard to believe, but the American audience is just different. Since they highlight their own programs, the content on offer is also different.

SM: What are the animated programs that work well in the United States?

MB: There are actually quite a few, such as Oggy et les Cafards for instance. Raving Rabbits (Lapins Cretins) has had great ratings since it debuted on Nickelodeon last summer. Garfield is on Netflix (also airs on Cartoon Network), as is Iron ManOscar’s Oasis (Oscar & Co in French), and Fish’n chips. There is also Eliot Kid on Qubo, who just acquired Sally Bollywood as well.

SM: How would you describe the "French touch" in animation?

MB: Aesthetics, polished visuals, a long tradition of comic books that taught us how to tell stories with images… We have this non-conformism, this ability to constantly challenge ourselves with every new project, we’re always working on different visual features. Technically speaking, some professionals are working on 3D images with a 2D feel. We do not rest on our laurels and we are not the type of people who keep using the same formula just because it has worked before. We also have a particularly high level of craftsmanship.

Mathieu Bejot is Executive Director at TV France International, an association of TV companies whose main aim is to nurture and promote France’s TV production and sales houses and help them expand their reach in the global markets.

Interview by Sandra Muller in New York City. Translated into English by Romain Rancurel.

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