21 - 24 JUNE 2021 / EDITION N°32


Sunny Side of the Doc

COMMUNITY VOICES – Episode 9 feat. Christophe Sommet, CEO TF1 Group’s Thematic Pole

We may be living through times of unprecedented change, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future of storytelling.
Now is not the time to despair, but to act and interact!

Please introduce yourself in a few words. What’s your current position? What is your company main activity?

CEO TF1 Group’s Thematic Pole

I am CEO of TF1 Group’s Thematic Pole, in charge of 3 pay TV channels, including the 2 documentary channels Ushuaïa TV and HISTOIRE TV. Only channel 100% dedicated to the protection of the planet, a theme that is more than ever at the heart of people’s concerns, Ushuaïa TV has celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020. Through a rich and varied panel of documentaries, magazines and cinema films, the channel invites all curious minds to explore the world, to discover its inexhaustible beauty, but also and above all to preserve its wonders and peoples. Distributed in more than 30 French-speaking countries and received by more than 12 million subscriber households, the channel reaches 3.2 million viewers each month.

HISTOIRE TV is a true generalist channel, leader on the history thematic. More than ever, the channel intends to present living history in all its facets, through a wide diversity of formats and angles. By covering all periods of history with a wide variety of themes ranging from civilizations to wars, historical news and culture, HISTOIRE TV cultivates a unique editorial line. With its 9 million subscriber households throughout the French-speaking territories, the channel reaches 3 million viewers every month.

We are a dynamic player in documentary production. Each year, the two channels invest a global amount of 2 million euros in new productions. In terms of acquisitions, HISTOIRE TV buys around 350 hours a year and Ushuaïa TV around 200 hours.

Public and private broadcasters are venturing into a largely disrupted period as the COVID-19 pandemic upends production and distribution activities across the globe. How are you impacted ?

Thanks to the responsiveness and strong mobilization of our teams, we have adapted our working methods. Teleworking has become widespread and has enabled us to ensure the continuity of our business.

In addition, we are very attached to our partnerships built up with our producers over time. We felt it was essential to be at their side during this difficult period. We did not cancel any projects but some shootings had to be put on standby while waiting for the sanitary situation to allow their resumption. The next few weeks will be an opportunity to make a complete assessment of the situation.

Finally, for both Ushuaïa TV and HISTOIRE TV, we are working on medium-term programming. The month of March was marked by a special programming for the 15th anniversary of Ushuaïa TV, while the months April to June are marked by many historical commemorations. All of which we had anticipated in advance. This anticipation of program supply enabled us to ensure the continuity of our program broadcasting without any problems. It also enabled HISTOIRE TV and Ushuaïa TV to participate at the #NationApprenante (French only) operation launched by the Ministry of National Education by offering content related to school curricula, on air but also on free access on the MYTF1 platform. Some programs were also broadcasted on the ephemeral channel “#ALaMaison“.


What ressources are you exploring to keep documentary productions up and running during this unprecedented time?

Faced with this unprecedented situation, we must be pragmatic and innovative. Editorially, we have noticed that more and more emerging projects address the theme of the next world, undoubtedly in relation to the period we are going through. For Ushuaïa TV, this only reinforces the reflection we started a long time ago, like the collection Un autre chemin (Lato Sensu Productions).

Le temps de l’exil, with Anne Quéméré, which Ushuaïa TV co-produces with Injam Production.

On a technical and logistical level, we have taken the decision with some producers to adapt projects that had to be shot internationally, especially outside the European Union, to bring them back to Europe when possible. This is the case of the 3×52′ series on climate refugees, Le temps de l’exil, with Anne Quéméré, which Ushuaïa TV co-produces with Injam Productions.

Finally, in some documentaries, we integrate new narration modes, such as interviews conducted via Skype that we had already experimented in the documentary Génération Greta (Galaxie Presse) broadcasted in March on Ushuaïa TV.

How has your international acquisition and/or coproduction strategies evolved as a result of the current situation?

We continue to diversify our sources of supply, particularly internationally. The importance of finding powerful partners and international funding was confirmed during this crisis. These additional funds are sometimes essential for the realization of projects. More than ever, it is necessary to seek and find the best partners wherever they are.

History focus: What makes a good History programme pitch for your network/channel?

Above all, we are looking for projects with an original angle or treatment, allowing us to distinguish HISTOIRE TV from other documentary channels. There are no rules regarding format or genre. Our grid covers all periods of history, which is what makes it special. We also have a large volume of documentaries devoted to culture and we are not afraid of mixing genres: politics and art history, societal evolution and cinema, literature and war…

The range of subjects likely to interest us is therefore very wide and I prefer to define our research in terms of quality: intelligent, relevant and well-documented projects that present something new, supported by solid production (whether the budget is modest or large).

How can the international marketplace Sunny Side of the Doc help you come out stronger on the other side? 

 The Sunny Side of the Doc is the major event in the documentary world. The best international partners meet there every year whether they are producers, distributors or broadcasters. This is an opportunity for us to present to French and international partners our ambitions and developments for both channels. Given the growing importance of forging international partnerships, this event is more than ever a must and we are delighted to be a Silver partner again.

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