End clap for Salto, but France can bet on other weapons to shine

“Thank you to all Salto subscribers for sharing with us their desire and enthusiasm for a streaming platform made in France. “After two and a half years of existence, the” French Netflix “has not managed to fall back on its feet after a pirouette however notable: succeeding in collaborating France Télévisions, TF1 and M6.

After a thunderous launch on October 2, 2020, the Franco-French video-on-demand platform leaves its approximately 800,000 subscribers on a black screen while new subscriptions have already been impossible since mid-February. With this final pirouette, Salto sees the French hope of offering the country its own video on demand platform without making people cry in the cottages.

“When we come to challenge the monopoly, the players already established for some time who have a lead in terms of image, subscribers, catalog management, etc., it is difficult to come and disrupt this market”, assures For 20 Minutes Séverine Barthes, lecturer at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University and media specialist. Faced with the four giants, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Disney+, is France resigned to passively squatting global streaming platforms after this failure? Not so sure.

“Hands tied behind the back”

The “enhanced television” proposal, a unique place where television replay and exclusive offers from the biggest French TV groups cohabit, will not have survived. Thomas Follin, the general manager of Salto had however warned in October 2021 that “in ten years, Salto will not be essential in the world, but Salto will be essential for all French audiences”. Magnifying glass.

“The Competition Authority and the supervisory authorities made Salto run with his hands tied behind his back”, summarizes Séverine Barthes. Throughout its short existence, the platform has been hampered by regulatory constraints specific to France. With, for example, quotas for exclusive programs sold by the parent channels or the prohibition of promotion on their linear channels.

Despite programs broadcast exclusively on Salto before their appearance on TV, they always ended up being broadcast free of charge on the channels or their replay sites. The 135 million euros budget and the catalog of the platform will not have been enough to attract a sufficient number of subscribers to survive. “They wanted to be at the level of Netflix without having the same weapons because Salto only exploited the French market”, she explains again. The failure of the merger project between M6 and TF1 was a fatal kick for the platform.

A daring bet but not impossible

However, the European audiovisual sector is not condemned to fight pot of earth against pot of iron of the American giants, estimates Louis Wiart, professor of communication at the Free University of Brussels and specialist in the socio-economy of platforms. cultural. “In specific situations, we quite frequently see local players doing well on national markets,” he explains.

This is the case of Viaplay, a video-on-demand company created in 2007 and headquartered in Stockholm. In 2020, it occupied the second position of the streaming services with the most subscribers in Sweden, but also in Denmark and Finland. A success that positions it in direct competition with Netflix on these markets, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory. The same goes for Voyo, a similar Romanian initiative launched in 2011 and occupying the second position in Romania and Slovenia and the third in Croatia.

These two platforms have benefited from more than ten years to settle, unlike Salto, which arrived late. Séverine Barthes evokes a “French evil” which leaves little time for things to settle. “Maybe by persevering, this initiative could have taken hold, but as it was, they were losing money. This proves that you have to have financiers behind you who are ready to lose money for a gain that may never come. »

“Exporting” platforms

For several years, French production has managed to find a place for itself in the world of streaming, without waiting for the emergence and then the collapse of Salto. With Netflix in the lead, international streaming services are implementing what Louis Wiart calls “glocalization” strategies, a contraction between global and local markets. “The platforms adapt to local markets but also produce locally to export on a global scale,” he explains. French productions shine abroad thanks to the strike force of these platforms.

These strategies were encouraged by the modification by the European Union of the SMA directives in 2018, imposing on these companies a minimum of 30% of European productions in their catalog.

If they include and promote French production, the streaming giants are also now in direct competition with local players who can no longer make French-language productions their niche. Louis Wiart evokes a “collateral effect” of the European directive.

“Our programs are popular abroad”

With or without Salto, French audiovisual remains flourishing. In particular thanks to a very protective regulatory framework, obliging the various players in the sector to invest in French production. Foreign platforms then become supports to allow France to shine beyond its borders, argues Séverine Barthes. “Is it more important to have a blue-white-red platform like Salto or a strong audiovisual production that means we have Oussekine on Disney+ or Lupin on Netflix,” she asks.

According to the expert, France should make its weakness in not having been able to take the big bandwagon of video on demand a strength, and too bad if there is no tricolor platform. “Our programs are popular abroad, there is a real appetite for French content that offers a different point of view, we are lucky to have been able to keep a strong audiovisual industry and know-how valued abroad… Let’s enjoy it, ”she concludes.

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