Report for MIP-TV – Canal+: Non-fiction hits home first

Canal+ ratings from January 1997 until press time...
April 1, 1998

Canal+ ratings from January 1997 until press time


1. Stress à l’école/Capa/93.53

2. Titanic: anatomie d’un naufrage/Ellipse/84.23

3. Peyron – Australie les requins de la grande barrière/Ellipse/74.47

4. Ngoronoro les derniers rugissements du lion/WNET/BBC/48.11

5. Les mondes perdus – Toutankhamon/CineNova/52.25

6. La vague, le surf et le requins/Survival Anglia/50.02

7. Au gichet des allocs/Capa/75

8. Mémoires d’immigrés/Bandits Production/2h34

9. Le tourisme animalier en Afrique/Anabase/Nature/52.08

10. Lady Mountbatten, pour l’amour de l’Inde/TransEurope Film/58.32

Canal+ would not disclose its ratings, but the ten shows listed received the highest ratings from Jan 1, 1997 to the present, according to the broadcaster. Stress à l’école was the top-rated show, watched by 25% of the broadcaster’s 3.5-million subscribers.

Titanic may have topped Discovery’s list, but it was a crisis at home, not on the high seas, which topped the Canal+ chart. Stress à l’école (Stress at School), a 75-minute coproduction with Paris-based Capa, examines a social issue close to the hearts of the French audience.

The two-million-franc documentary looks at problems intrinsic to the French educational system. Children are spending more time in the classroom, carrying heavier course loads and writing harder exams in order to get into the best schools and climb the social ladder. The pressure to succeed is beginning to take its toll on children, families and the educational system, becoming a crisis of national proportions.

Stress pulled in almost 25% of Canal+’s 3.5-million subscribers during its first showing last year. Previous top broadcasting marks were set by director Phil Agland and Channel 4′s Baku – People Of the Rain Forest, as well as The Kennedys by Philip Whitehead. Each managed an audience of just over 20% of subscribers, double the average 10% for a documentary on Canal+. Stress aired in primetime on a Friday and, like most high-end docs, received on-air promo and some same-day print advertising.

Traditionally, sociopolitical docs have pulled in the highest ratings, featuring topics such as homelessness, social solidarity and single women. After social issues, the highest ratings go to blue-chip natural-history and adventure shows.

The key to numbers remains storytelling, insists head of documentaries, Catherine Lamour. Canal+ viewers want to be entertained, and Lamour has to find programming to keep them in their seats. ‘[Viewers want to see] anything with a myth, whether it’s about a movie star or a love story.’ As well, Lamour finds there is ‘a direct relation between the success of the film and the time that was spent working on it.’ Some topics, like the Titanic or the Kennedys, are a guaranteed hit. ‘But, if you attract the audience with this kind of appeal,’ warns Lamour, ‘then you have to serve them properly.’ Wide popularity shouldn’t translate into poor quality.

With a family demographic (male and female 15-45), wide appeal is imperative to justify a place on the air for non-fiction. Good documentary programming is a bonus for subscribers who purchased Canal+ for dramatic feature films. ‘It makes them happy to feel like they’ve paid for something and got more.’

Documentary has traditionally been broadcast on the weekend, from Friday to Monday night. Lamour has begun to experiment with different slots to reach her audience. Among the new programming strategies are theme nights, where documentary is paired with a fiction feature, such as an evening on Evita, now in the works. Canal+ has also begun theme weeks, allowing docs and fiction to share the benefits of the same publicity.

Guide to Frontrunners:

-Ratings & Overview

-Discovery: Success with nautical disaster

-Raging success on C4

-TVO Size doesn’t matter (market, that is)

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.