What is Arte’s free series offer worth?

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Launched in early October, Arte.tv’s free series platform is another way to consume online content. What are the most notable series to discover there? What are its ambitions? Let’s do a check in.

On October 3, Arte embarked on a project that clashes with usual VOD practices: a platform offering series for the most part unseen in France, available completely free. Almost 100 hours of content carefully chosen by the Franco-German channel to complete its already rich offer in replay.

As we have read here and there, the idea is not really to “compete with Netflix”. The means are not the same, only half a dozen series are currently available on the service, and we are not really talking about large productions type Stranger Things or The Mandalorian. We rather eye European productions, often modest, but rather very well received by critics. According to Alexandre Piel, deputy director of fiction at Arte France, the ambition for the channel is the same as that which usually governs its editorial line, “to step aside“.

The pride of the British series

Faced with overabundant offers where one series very quickly replaces another, we choose to give time to selected content, and to editorialize things“, he explains. This translates, for example, into the use of what the channel calls” toolboxes “supposed to guide the viewer in his discovery of the content offered.

For the moment, two categories of this type are on the program. The first, “Offbeat British”, brings together British fictions and their unique tone, whether they are humorous, delusional or dramatic. The second “Back to the Originals”, should arrive a little later, and will bring together the series that have inspired heavyweights in the sector. Only one of them is currently online, We are not dead, Israeli thriller that served as an American model Homeland. It should be joined in 2021 by the original versions of House of Cards (UK) and you Tunnel (The bridge, Denmark).

The “British Décalé” section already has 5 series.

For the rest, Arte has already “two themes“more in mind, but we won’t know more yet.”We already have other content in sight but it takes a little time, explains Alexandre Piel. Most of the series available do not have multilingual versions, so we have to support closed captioning.“In the long term, the channel also aims to” give new visibility to series which have marked the Arte antenna, such as The Killing or Ansi be they for example.”

Adapt to new consumption patterns

This new offer is the result of a reflection initiated at the time of the explosion of SVOD platforms. “We wanted to right an injustice. We have limited volumes for fictions as a bonus, and yet we see a lot of nuggets passing, that we cannot in fact broadcast“Accessible online but also via a mobile application or on Smart TVs, this platform was also an opportunity for”free oneself from formats and expectations, whether in the length of the episodes, in the number of seasons or in the tone of the works in question“, continues the deputy director.

The objective is also for Arte to take a real step forward in its relationship with the public. No quantified ambitions on the program, but a desire to get in line with modern practices in the audiovisual world. “What we observe is that there is a shift in the habits of spectators, analysis Alexandre Piel. Today, even the 40-50-year-old generation has more and more the reflex to go and see what is available on the different platforms rather than turning on the television. 5 years ago, it was the opposite. We also want to expand our audience by attracting viewers who are less familiar with Arte but attracted by our content, and to support our regulars on the shelf towards these new modes of consumption..”

A strategy that will be interesting to compare with that of Salto, the platform jointly launched by TF1, France Télévisions and M6, which will land next week.

Ireland, paranoia and Harry Potter

But in the meantime, what are the series to devour as a priority on the Arte platform? To be fair, we weren’t aware of much of the content currently being offered or announced. This is why we went to discuss it with Alexandre Büyükodabas, series critic for Les Inrockuptibles, who gives us his small personal selection.

Inside N°9, de Reece Shearsmith et Steve Pemberton (UK)

The idea : A very popular anthology series in the United Kingdom but never before broadcast in France, where each episode takes place in a setting marked with the number nine: compartment 9 of a train, number 9 of a street, the ninth floor of a building …

Critic’s opinion : “We find in Inside N ° 9 something of the Fourth Dimension or from Black Mirror, without the futuristic side but with traps and narrative reversals which are revealed little by little and which make you never really know where you are stepping your feet. It’s often cruel and cynical, imbued with black humor, sometimes burlesque, in short, it’s very British.

Inside N°9 © FR_tmdb

The Virtues, de Shane Meadows (UK)

The idea : The story of an alcoholic man who is totally vacillating after losing custody of his son, who left to live with his mother in Australia. He will try to trace the traces of his traumatic past in Ireland, reconnecting with a family with whom he had cut ties.

Critic’s opinion : “We are on English social realism à la Ken Loach or Mike Leigh, something very creepy, naturalistic. It is a series that does not spare the viewer much. We have plans on the main character covered in vomit, on the drool, the snot flowing from his nose… It can be a little off-putting at times, but at the same time, from his return to Ireland, the series evokes in sub- text all the wounds of the country, the civil war, the hold of the Catholic religion, poverty … All in a way, for once, very subtle. In addition, the actor Stephen Graham is really moving there.

Stephen Graham shines in The Virtues.  © FR_tmdb

Stephen Graham shines in The Virtues. © FR_tmdb

A Young Doctor’s Notebook, by Mark Chappel, Shaun Pye and Alan Connor, based on the work of Mikhaïl Bulgakov (UK)

The idea : In 1934, a Russian doctor reread the diary he kept in 1917, as he was beginning his career. From his memories of a young doctor who went to treat the poor peasants at the far end of the country, a dialogue will be established between these two versions of himself.

Critic’s opinion : “The acting duo of Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe works very well, we really have the impression of seeing Don Draper (Mad Men) and Harry Potter talking together. It’s openly kitsch, with a bit of cardboard decor from a hospital lost in the depths of Russia in the 1910s, snowstorms, creaking doors, patients drinking vodka … It’s a bit of nonsense, but it doesn’t take it seriously and it’s quite successful.

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe in A Young Doctor's Notebook.  © Sky Arts

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. © Sky Arts

We are not dead, by Gideon Raff (Israel)

The idea : The story of three Israeli soldiers freed by Hamas after 7 years in captivity. As they rejoin their families, some are quickly suspected of having changed sides.

Critic’s opinion : “This is the series that inspired the first two or three seasons of Homeland. But where the latter is more based on efficiency, in a paranoid spy thriller style, Hatufim places himself much more on a psychological side, on the side of intimate and family drama. It’s very successful, and besides Gideon Raff, the creator of the series, is one of the great authors of contemporary Israeli production, a very dynamic country in the field.

Hatufim is the series that inspired Homeland.  © Ronen Akerman / Showtime

We are not dead is the series that inspired Homeland. © Ronen Akerman / Showtime

Criminal Justice, by Peter Moffat (UK), in December on the platform

The idea : The story of an uneventful young man who is a little shy who meets a girl one evening. They drink, they sleep together, fall asleep, and the next morning she’s dead, covered in blood, and he has his prints absolutely everywhere. He is arrested and caught in a ruthless judicial machine for a murder he apparently did not commit.

Critic’s opinion : “It is a series created by Peter Moffat, the specialist in forensic dramas on British television. Like Homeland, she had the right to her American remake, The Night Of, also very successful. We dive into the twists and turns of this judicial machine while keeping the point of view of the main character. It’s relentless, it’s hard and we see all the dehumanizing aspects of justice, from interrogation to prison. And then it’s a series that says something about the relationship between justice and fiction. Lawyers keep saying that we don’t care about the truth and just tell the best possible story to the jury.

Ben Whishaw (r.) Stars as Criminal Justice.  © BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

Ben Whishaw (right) stars as Criminal Justice. © BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

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