Inside Canal+ Docs: “We are definitely a partner for international docs”

Canal+ Group has been on a shopping spree for its new Canal+ Docs channel, and also has strong ambitions regarding originals, the channel said at last week’s Fipadoc documentary festival ...
January 26, 2022

Canal+ Group has been on a shopping spree for its new Canal+ Docs channel, and also has strong ambitions regarding originals, the channel said at last week’s Fipadoc documentary festival in Biarritz in a room fully packed with masked producers.

In September, Canal+ reshaped its premium pay-TV channel offering by creating Canal+ Docs and Canal+ Kids in addition to the already existing Canal+ Series, and bundled them together with flagship channel Canal+, which, while it does run some documentaries and series, focuses on movies and sports as its main fare.

“Documentaries have become one of the first reasons for people to subscribe, and demand for the genre is rising, but there’s [only so] much we could take for Canal+ itself,” explained Christine Cauquelin (pictured), Canal+’s group director of documentaries. “In addition, interest for factual programming is growing among young audiences too.”

Cauquelin quoted some recent research which stated that 70% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they are interested in documentaries (an 18-point increase year-on-year), and 44% are willing to pay for them, a statistic that is up 12 points from the previous year.

While the group also has Planète+ and its spin-off channels, these are marketed differently and are in another bundle. As a result of the move, Planète+ will be progressively repositioned as a history channel, Cauquelin said.

“Canal+ Docs is a premium generalist documentary channel, [meaning] we will only run exclusive and recent shows,” she explained. The channel will have both feature docs and series, and intends to select the best international documentaries found on the festival circuit. Regarding commissions and pre-buys, Cauquelin said the channel is looking for “stories that reflect our time and great storytelling featuring, for instance, obstacles and resilient characters.”

The channel’s offerings are built around six pillars, each with a weekly strand. Monday’s ‘Accès Exclusif’ (‘Exclusive Access’) featured some high-profile biopics, such as the HBO documentary Tina, at launch. Others on the way include Robin’s Wish, a doc about Robin Williams; A&E’s Kisstory and Moby Doc; HBO’s The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart; and the boxing doc Bruno vs Tyson.

Sports documentaries are a particular area of interest for Canal+ Docs. “We have been doing some for a while, and will have more and more of them, because they please our subscribers,” Cauquelin noted. Among the projects on tap for this year is a documentary about tennis star John McEnroe.

Tuesdays are devoted to documentaries about our times, and will feature such films as the French doc Jurassic Cash, about the business of dinosaur fossils, and We Are Thousands from Italy, the story of the Rockin’ 1000 band, which describes itself as “the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Wednesdays are for “coup de coeur,” or atypical docs that may not fit into neat boxes but deserve a slot, including General Magic, The Alpinist, and Dirty Tricks. Thursdays are dedicated to action docs, such as Desert One directed by Barbara Kopple, “who has a great way to treat the experts and witnesses like movie characters and is very creative in terms of recreation,” Cauquelin said.

Fridays go ‘En Route’ ( ‘On the Road’) with a reboot of Nouveaux Explorateur, a successful commissioned strand that Canal+ stopped airing about 10 years ago, but is now bringing back to life. “We needed fresh air, more space!” Cauquelin commented.

Finally, Sundays will be devoted to true-crime feature docs or series, such as South Africa’s Devilsdorp (a Realscreen MIPCOM Pick from 2021). “What’s good with streaming is that it has revived the true-crime miniseries, something we did in the past but that was a bit difficult to schedule on linear channels,” Cauquelin noted.

Canal+ Docs is also meant to meet the changing ways viewers consume content. Because of the surge in on-demand usage, which is bringing a greater number of young viewers to the documentary genre, Canal+ is encouraging producers to pitch projects with 15-minute or 26-minute runtimes.

Regarding its plans for originals, Caquelin said that “We launched on many acquisitions, but that is because of the latest production and delivery delays [due to the COVID-19 pandemic]; many commissions are underway.” These include a miniseries about fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld, and a biopic about chef Guy Savoy.

“Out of our 220 evening strands, half will be filled with first-runs,” Caquelin said about the channel’s overall needs, noting that 80% are documentaries in which the channel gets involved upfront either as commissions, coproductions or pre-buys, while 20% are pure acquisitions. “We are also definitely a partner for international docs,” she added.

She also said that the group’s documentary production budget is increasing as a result of the creation of the new channel, with 250 original documentaries expected to be delivered this year in total, up from around 100. However, the growth is partly due to production and delivery delays experienced over the past two years.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.