All docs all the time with Planete

Planete, Canal+ Group's digital documentary channel, just celebrated its 20th anniversary on air this fall. Head of documentary acquisitions, Laurent Sicouri, explains to realscreen what the French channel, along with its offshoots Planete No Limit, Planete Thalassa and the latest, Planete Justice, are looking for and how they fill their slots with doc features, one-offs and limited series.
November 12, 2008

Planete has the good fortune, for doc producers anyway, of filling its entire schedule with documentary programs. Can you explain for our readers who might not have access to your channel or its website – because of the language barrier – what slots you’re programming for?
In the beginning, 20 years ago, it was a doc channel where you could show anything you liked in the order you liked. When the rates started to be installed in France we started organizing the schedule to have thematic slots each evening.

On Monday we have an evening docufiction, theatrical feature, family oriented, easy watching slot. Tuesday is an ancient civilization slot [which features] lots of programs that use CGI and reenactment. Wednesday is our two hour current affair slot with a journalist presenter. Programs are themed around aspects of society that are a concern to the French audience. We have a history slot on Thursday, which features very classical history programming but also investigative history treatments or reenactments. We also have an adventure slot, an airplane slot and a travel slot.

On Sunday we have a one hour wildlife slot, as well as a festival feature length film slot in the second part of the evening. It’s a good slot which helps to show different forms of documentaries.

How about Planete’s sister stations?
Planete No Limit is for spectacular action style documentaries. Either adventure and sports or paranormal slots. Also more ‘disastertainment’ or crime, but crime following the police force, that kind of stuff. It’s quite the American production channel.

Thalassa is a sea oriented channel. We made it with the team of France 3, there’s a magazine called Thalassa that’s existed for 30 years. We used a lot of the previous programs from the series from the past 30 years and also we buy sea oriented documentaries. Docs about people living on the sea, wildlife, travel and discovery docs.

Justice is a crime and investigation doc channel.

What kinds of docs don’t work on the Planete channels?
We cover almost every kind of documentary. What is difficult for us is music and arts documentaries. Sometimes we can have them on Planete production [the feature doc slot], but it’s difficult they don’t perform very well.

Is it only documentaries and one-offs that work best for Planete, or are you also looking for series?
Depending on the subject, series are working well for historical slots or plane slots. It’s good when you have a series because the public will come back and follow it. The discovery slot works quite well to have a series because everyday at the same time people will come to watch the same style of programs. But otherwise one-offs work very well for us.

How do you invest in programming?
We are a good partner for French production. We invest quite a lot as a second window broadcaster when there’s terrestrial TV involved, and as a first window broadcaster when we involve more money to help a production that doesn’t find finances elsewhere, or a project that we initiated or something we really like. We have some quotas of French production to respect. This system helps the dynamics of circulation of French programs, and production is quite good.

We buy a lot in Europe, in England – of course BBC, Granada, independent distributors Electric Sky – and a lot in Canada and the US. We buy 3,000 hours per year so it makes enough room for everybody.

It’s mostly acquisitions. We are commissioning between 10 and 15 percent of our programs. Which is split between second and first window. And we’re starting to commission more internationally. We’re focused on France, but we’re doing more elsewhere than we used to.

What’s your advice to producers who would like to work with Planete?
If they have time, look at our website. The problem it’s in French. But it gives a clear example of the programs we’re showing. A good program that corresponds to our slots always finds a place on our channels.

The best suggestion is to think of TV viewers, we have to address our programs to someone who comes home from work and is changing channels and we want them to stop on our channels.

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