Waiting for Netflix

From this point forward, it’s official: the American online video monster is landing in France on September 15. That evening, Netflix will organize a big Parisian party. The launching of this service, which allows you to see thousands of old films or exclusive series on your computer, tablet, smartphone or television for a modest sum — undoubtedly 8 euros — will be a textbook case.

To start with, the fascination French reporters have for this subject has opened an incredible promotional avenue: For months, French journalists have been writing pages on the subject, and the Netflix brand is already imprinted on the country’s imagination without them having to spend a cent on advertising. There are several similar services already active — FilmoTv, Videofutur, Canalplay — but we, the press, haven’t talked a lot about them, in part because technologically these services are less reliable, and particularly because everything that comes from Silicon Valley is endowed with an aura that something homegrown can never equal.

Next, this chronicle of a landing foretold at least two years in advance underlines the difficulty of the reaction in this country. Why didn’t French operators react earlier and more strongly to preempt this deal? Canal+ has a similar service, Canalplay, that it has let go fallow, for fear of weakening its premium service. Of course, Canal has done a lot of advertising for its subsidiary but it has never pushed the business idea to the limit in order to make a protective shield of it, for fear of losing revenue.

In 2012, the Minister of Culture ordered a report from Pierre Lescure, former CEO of Canal+ and henceforth president of the Cannes Film Festival, in order to develop the sector, and to prepare it precisely for Netflix. Lescure worked relentlessly for more than six months and turned in a good report in May 2013. He advised relaxing French legislation in order to build more attractive SVOD services — which is what, technologically, Netflix is doing — in order to reduce the pirating of films and TV shows online, all while putting forward an offer of subscription videos that is more appealing than what exists today, pulling the rug out from under the Americans.

But unbelievably, this report was useless. The minister of culture was incapable of learning even the smallest lesson from it. Bertrand Meheut, president of Canal+, and Nonce Paolini, president of TF1, blocked all the changes afterwards.

Rather than attacking, the French made the same move they made with the Maginot Line. They waited for the Netflix tanks. At the end of this summer, Canalplay will finally launch some blockbuster advertising with John Malkovich to win over the masses before its competitor can. But, how can I put this … to start with, it’s a little late and, as a result, it highlights Netflix’s strength even more. Next, it’s not very convincing. Canal+ is usually more inspired when it comes to advertising. Why Malkovich? To seem American? To seem like Netflix? It feels cheap. Canal would have done better to produce an exclusive series that would only have been visible through its service in order to attract lots of subscribers and to prevent us from rushing to Netflix to finally see “Orange is the New Black,” its flagship show, which will no doubt win lots of Emmys on Monday, August 25.

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