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Theatre on TV | Valérie Charlet
Conversation with Sabine Bossan

Au Théâtre Ce Soir was a famous TV program that rebroadcast theater performances from 1966 to 1984, a hit show that left its mark on the history of television. What kind of coverage does theater have on television today? The SACD's Audiovisual Department gives us an overview of the very different current context, with an abundance of channels and a diversity of media to chose from.

Sabine Bossan There has been a lot of talk about live recordings lately. What exactly are they?

Valérie Charlet A recording is defined as that of a live performance on stage in public. Recordings of the same performance by three different directors will result in three different audiovisual works.

SB What is the SACD’s involvement in recordings?

VC In 2011 a service devoted to new media and live recordings was created within the Audiovisual Department. I am a legal counsel/negotiator within that department. My job consists in several activities:

The first involves negotiating contracts for video recordings that must be signed between the producer of the recording and the co-authors of the collaborative recording (the playwright(s) and stage director, as well as the film director). It concerns recordings captured in French theaters and produced by a French producer, whose primary purpose is to be broadcast by a French television channel. The SACD’s involvement consists in representing the author vis-à-vis the producer and negotiating the key conditions of the contract on his behalf:

• the nature of the licensed rights,
• the length of the assignment,
• the payment, i.e. the amount of the bonus and of the advance on rights granted the author, as well as of the percentage owed for each mode of exploitation licensed in the contract.

The primary exploitation of the recording is to be broadcast on television, either by a ‘‘small’’ broadcaster or by one such as France Télévisions. The secondary exploitation of the recording is most often its commercialization in the form of a DVD, a medium that will eventually be replaced by Video on demand. The SACD has negotiated general contracts for three different kinds of VOD: Free Video On Demand (for broadcast on YouTube and/or Dailymotion), Replay TV or Catch-up TV (where you can see the desired program on the broadcaster’s Internet site for 7 days, and sometimes for 1 month), and lastly, subscription video on demand which allows the user unlimited access to a limited number of works.
The 4th type of video on demand is Pay-per-view where the user can watch the recording of a program on the day and at the time of his choosing. The recording is made available to the user through a broadcasting service to which the user pays an individualized price in order to view the recording.

My second task consists in processing the requests from foreign authors’ rights societies allowing sound and audiovisual recordings or rebroadcasts of recordings. These are recordings made in theaters abroad involving performances of French works in the language of that country, staged and directed locally. In such cases, these are limited authorizations, not contracts; the authorizations are valid for an average of two to three years and are granted for the great majority under the conditions of the general contract binding the foreign authors society and the local broadcaster. Moreover, they only concern the author of the French work: the translator, if not a member of the SACD, and the director are contacted directly by the foreign authors society. Finally, these recordings are produced by the channels themselves, not by private producers.

SB Can you provide us with some figures?

VC Certain countries are major viewers of the SACD’s French-language theater repertory: in 2012, 20% of requests were from German-speaking countries, 17% from Poland, 16% from the Czech Republic, followed by Italy (10%). Other countries, such as Japan and Hungary, are regular viewers but to a lesser degree.

A wide majority (57%) of the requests from all countries involves authorizations for linear and non-linear radio broadcasts.

There is a clear preference in Germany for broadcasting contemporary authors, whereas Poland and the Czech Republic broadcast authors from the first half of the 20th century.

SB What are the main production agencies?

VC In France, it’s COPAT, whose core activity consists in producing recordings, the Compagnie des Indes, which records everything performed in Avignon for its archives and does a wonderful job of preserving that for the future, and markets the recording. I might also mention Agathe Films, Axes Sud Productions, Camera Lucida and Juste Pour Rire, specialized in recordings of comedic performances, Telmondis and Bel Air Média which produce recordings of opera and choreographic performances, and Mistral Productions.

SB How many French channels present theatrical performances these days? And which ones are they?

VC In its role as a public service provider, France Télévisions broadcasts live performances, as well as  D8, Paris Première, Mezzo, ARTE, Comédie, Rire Festival and others. There are about ten regular broadcasters in France.
D8 and France 4 appear to be the highest achievers in terms of broadcasting recordings of the performing arts. France 4 is also a large broadcaster of comedic works.

SB How many hours of performing arts are they required to broadcast?

VC The broadcasting quotas are not really determined in terms of hourly volume. Article 13 of the Tasca Decree (1990), which fixes these broadcasting quotas for the channels, requires the television services to schedule as part of the total amount of time devoted annually to broadcasting audiovisual works, at least:
• 60% of European works aired;
• 40% of works originally in French.

Consequently, it isn’t possible to determine the share represented by recordings among all audiovisual works aired.

SB Has their number increased in recent years?

Florence Voirin / Anne Branchereau We don’t have any statistics yet to measure increases or drops in the number of recordings broadcast. However, we have noted that recordings have featured more prominently in programming schedules in the past few years.

SB For about how long?

VC Theater on television dates back to the mid-1960s, when Pierre Sabbagh created the famous program Au Théâtre Ce Soir.

SB Do a lot of viewers watch the recordings?

VC We have an audience research tool for the main channels, Médiamétrie, which tells us quite precise information about the number of TV viewers and thus the market share. It all depends on how well known the author and performers are, and the play’s success when it is aired. And, naturally, what is being shown on the other channels on that particular evening. Success is always relative. But it is generally acknowledged that the more successful a play has been on stage, the more successful it will be when broadcast on television. Good examples of this would be Cendrillon by Joël Pommerat, Les Montagnes russes and Le Technicien by Eric Assous, Le Gai Mariage by Michel Munz and Gérard Bitton.

SB At what time are they usually aired?

VC For a famous author, the recording takes place on the final performance and is broadcast live during prime time.

SB What types of plays are most frequently shown?

VC Comedies are in the forefront, followed by ‘‘classic’’ theater and lastly opera.
To promote diversity France Télévisions is striving to schedule the most varied programming. Through its TV package including France 2, France 3, France 4 and France Ô, France Télévisions features a variety of theatrical, lyric and choreographic performances. Moreover, there are regular live theater rebroadcasts on the company’s national services. France 4 appears to be the channel scheduling the most recordings, comedy being the dominant genre.

SB Do authors generally approve of the recordings?

VC Authors increasingly approve of the recordings, although they’re still afraid television may have a negative effect on how the production fares in its theater run. Furthermore, the authors’ demands are quite justified, as they want to know which channel will air the recording and who will direct it. Concerning the latter, we have recently included a clause in the SACD model contract (accessible on our web site granting the authors of the preexisting dramatic work a ‘‘right of scrutiny” on the recording made by the director.

This ‘‘right of scrutiny” as we have included it in our model contracts enables the author to be involved in choosing the director with the producer. Once the choice has been made, the author and the director are invited to a meeting organized by the producer prior to the recording.

The recording often follows the play’s success on stage. It is part of a new communications dynamic for informing the public about plays. Previously, there was a real divide between the performing arts and television, but that border is blurring now, particularly since we are trying to promote bridges between the two and believe they can feed into each other. Broadcasting the performing arts on television has made it possible to change the cultural practices of a segment of the population, in particular those of modest means and/or who live far from major urban areas; this new mode of operation has desacralized and democratized the theater.

Interview with Valérie Charlet by Sabine Bossan
Our thanks to Anne Branchereau, Florence Voirin and Sandrine Grataloup
Translated by William Snow and Mélanie Rouger
February 2014
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