As CEO of Canal+ for more than a decade, Rodolphe Belmer pushed the pay TV giant to make original scripted content — a bet that paid off with award-winning shows such “Spiral” and “The Returned.” So what does he have planned at TF1, the French television company he took over last year?
From his office on the top floor of a 14-level skyscraper, with a panoramic view that includes the Eiffel Tower and La Defénse in the distance, Belmer reveals that TF1 hopes to expand its reach into other European countries, while launching an ad-supported streaming service on Jan. 8.
“We want to penetrate all French-speaking markets, including Belgium,” he says. “Let’s not forget that French is the fifth-most-spoken language in the world.”
And Belmer recognizes that TF1 has suffered some setbacks. Its planned merger with M6, the country’s second-biggest private TV network, failed to gain antitrust approval in 2022. TF1 also pulled out of Salto, a subscription-based streamer it created with France Télévisions and M6, after the service failed to take off.
“The antitrust board said no, so we’ve crossed it out,” says Belmer. “Our focus now is on our free streaming service because we think there’s a big strategic opportunity to create value for TF1.”
Some have dreamed of creating a European streaming giant on the level of Netflix, but Belmer, who is a numbers-obsessed realist, is looking in a different direction. He predicts that the launch of TF1+, an AVOD service, at the start of 2024 will allow the company to tap into the booming digital video advertising market — and also attract customers who are leaving traditional television in droves.
Belmer, who peppers his comments with a dizzying amount of data and can get very granular in his analysis, notes that the digital video market is worth 2 billion euros, but TF1’s share is only 5% of that.
“Our idea is to ramp up our market share to double-digit numbers, so that we’ll reinvest a portion of these additional revenues into content,” Belmer says.
The inaugural slate of TF1+ will include 80% of content from TF1 Group’s linear programming, including 250 series and 800 TV movies. The remaining 20% will be made up of 200 movies, mostly U.S. movies for family audiences, action and adventure films, as well as popular French comedies, along with news- and sports-related content.
The AVOD service will hold on to TF1 content for a duration ranging between 30 days and 48 months after the premiere broadcast — much longer than the seven-day period given to its catch up service, MyTF1.
“We renegotiated all our rights as soon I came on board last summer,” says Belmer, adding that “TV series are the queens of streaming.” TF1 has just ordered a reboot of “Plus belle la vie,” one of France’s most watched and longest running daily soap, “to boost binge watching on TF1+ where all seasons will be available at launch,” says Belmer.
Besides series and movies, TF1+ will place an emphasis on news which is already a strong aspect of the network group’s editorial line. “It’s part of our mission and we want to continue informing people in a digital world so we’ve developed a dedicated news roster that is tailored for on-demand consumption,” says Belmer, pointing out that news shows are rarely made for streamers.
The highlight of TF1+’s original offer will be Top Info, a format providing analysis and reporting on the main headlines of the day. Each topic is going to be covered in about five minutes on a daily basis and will be produced by TF1’s in-house newsroom.
TF1+ will also introduce new AI-powered tools, such Top Chrono, designed to allow users to watch sports games for the duration they want. Another innovative tool launched by TF1+ will be an algorithm that will take into account the tastes recommendations of all those watching.
Distribution deals have already been secured with Orange, France’s leading telco group, as well as SFR, Bouygues, Apple, Amazon, Hisense and all Google televisions.
TF1+ will be entirely financed through advertising, with an initial offer comprising 15,000 hours of programming. “It’s less than Netflix, which I think boasts 40,000 hours of programs in France, but it’s comparable to what Amazon and Disney have, and that’s not bad,” Belmer says. “Plus, we’ll be free!”