The fifth edition of the Séries Mania festival held in Paris in April welcomed web series with open arms, dedicating an entire competition to these little sisters of television productions. Presented on the Forum des Images movie screens, the selection of 12 productions from five different countries (including the Canadian Agent secret and Féminin/Féminin web series) showed the genre is thriving even though it doesn’t follow any specific formatting guidelines. Yet.
With increased recognition comes the issue of visibility. In theory, web series are available everywhere and to everyone, but their current distribution models represent a real challenge for web content creation.
In France, web series can only get media visibility and the attention of the critics through two avenues. Besides Séries Mania, there are just two other major festivals that showcase and reward this genre. There’s the Web Program Festival in La Rochelle, where web series are presented as part of a range of online television programs, and more specifically, the Marseille Web Fest, which is entirely dedicated to web series. The latter follows the same format as the LA Web Fest, which already has several spin-offs in Rome, Liège, Melbourne and Vancouver.
Created for the web, presented on TV
In addition to these few opportunities for exposure, web series can obviously be seen online through their original medium, whether it be YouTube, Dailymotion or some other platform. But if you’re going to make it in that maze of content “pipelines,” you really need to stand out.
In fact, there is only one. Studio 4.0 is the France Télévisions platform dedicated to web content creation. Headed by the group’s New Writing team, the entity funds and coproduces French-language creations, and also buys and broadcasts foreign content, like the smash hit Out with Dad.
The platform inherited its acquisition and broadcasting model from television, which is never far off since Studio 4.0 is also linked to France 4. The station redesigned its editorial line early this year, reinventing itself as a youth channel by day and a new writing and young adult channel by night (thanks to series like Black Mirror,Doctor Who andHero Corp, but also the “slow TV” Tokyo Reverse experience which created a lot of buzz in March).
A daily time slot labelled “Studio 4.0” was added to the network’s line-up as well in early April. Since then, from 8:15 pm to 8:45 pm Monday to Friday, viewers can enjoy back-to-back episodes of several productions originally presented on the Studio 4.0 website. Priority was given to series with a considerable number of episodes already produced, so Camweb with its female duo facing the camera, Indégivrables (“Unthawables”) with its animated penguins and the three seasons of Out with Dad were the first to be broadcast.
The network had previously experimented with broadcasting short format productions on television by presenting quarterly themed evenings under the name “Les nuits 4.0,” but it did so during a time slot with much less exposure. As soon as Studio 4.0 was launched in October 2012, the Les opérateurs and Le Visiteur du Futur web series – stars of the platform created by the prolific François Descraques and his “Frenchnerd” team – were broadcast on TV, but that was an exceptional case to capitalize on the tremendous success of Le Visiteur du Futur (the show’s first three seasons got more than 15 million views).
The double broadcasting trend now seems to be following a pattern: start with an exclusive launch online, and follow up with a stint on television in the event of success.
In an effort to appeal to “binge watchers,” France 4 ran a marathon of the first three seasons of Le Visiteur du Futur on May 17 beginning at 10:25 pm. The visual feast lasted over six hours.
Web series funding in France
In addition to the broadcasting issues mentioned above, French web series also have to deal with limited funding options, such as financial assistance reserved for new writing ventures – from the CNC (National Cinematography Centre), the SACD (Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers) and the Beaumarchais grant – and self-production through crowdfunding (Noob being a prime example). As for traditional broadcasters, between the artistic and experimental attempts of ARTE Creative and “YouTuber” sketches sponsored by Canal+ and M6, France Télévisions is the only entity to properly pre-fund its web creations (which now end up on TV as well) through the Studio 4.0 platform.
Thanks to its festivals and dedicated platforms, France is finally making the most of the web series format. However, the country remains at the mercy of a market structure that is too shaky to export on a global scale, at least for now. But with writers and producers beginning to show interest in the genre, the next logical step is to create new forms of distribution that don’t necessarily copy what short films (for festival broadcasting) and television (for funding) are currently doing.