French movies are popular around the world, but they are not always easy to access. Current streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu don’t offer a wide range of French movies and programmes and they are often only available for a limited time. Plus, French films are not always available to stream throughout the world.
This was the problem Frenchman Clément Monnet faced as he worked outside of France.
“I lived in Asia, Latin America and North America for 10 years and always struggled to find French movies online…when I was nostalgic for my country,” he said. “Now, streaming video on demand has boomed and there are numerous platforms, but none is dedicated to French film even though France is the second largest exporter of movies in the world.”
Monnet’s solution is Cinessance, a dedicated French-only streaming movie platform that will ultimately be available worldwide. As of November 16, Cinessance is available in the U.S. and Canada only, with planned expansion to other countries. Cinessance claims to have overcome catalogue inventory, licensing and availability problems by offering a large catalogue of French-only films and programming that will appeal to Francophones and Francophiles around the world. Movies will stream in French with English and French subtitles. Local language subtitles will be added as the service expands.
According to Monnet, France creates about the same number of films as the U.S., but French movies are underrepresented in streaming platforms for a variety of reasons. These include movie company inefficiencies in distribution and internationalising production along with changing habits of how consumers watch films. Streaming took off during the first pandemic year and the industry is trying to catch up.
“This is exactly why I created Cinessance,” said Monnet. “There’s a gap between the quantity of films that were produced and the quantity available on the new way of consumption. We had to bring French cinema into the home, onto laptops, tablets and phones. That’s how the whole project started – analysing this gap.”
Although building the brand and getting the interest of the 423 million worldwide audience of French expats, Francophones and Francophiles, plus the additional 2.2 billion who use streaming services, is an obvious challenge, there were initially bigger challenges. First was obtaining credibility as a legitimate streaming company with French studios. Second was obtaining the licensing rights to stream movies and programs. Even though Cinessance partners with the French studios (TF1, Canal, EuropaCorp, Orange, Playtime and in discussions with Pathé, Gaumont, SND and many more), the process was complex.
“My first thought was that any studio would be excited to work with a new platform … and actually it wasn’t the case,” said Monnet. “Movies are a high value asset and they wanted to be selective to offer rights, so the first thing we had to do was to prove our credibility as a start-up, raising money quickly, building companies and understanding the French cinema industry, plus that we were serious.”
Monnet did that with promoting his experience with start-ups including his last position as CEO of Voom, an urban helicopter taxi company that serviced Sāo Paulo, Mexico City and the San Francisco Bay Area in partnership with Airbus and Acubed. Voom unfortunately closed because of the pandemic since so one was flying, but lessons learned in the tech/consumer industry work for Cinessance. Monnet also had a variety of strategic advisors familiar with the cinema industry and movie license negotiation best practices.
The second thing was the long, slow process for obtaining licensing rights. It typically depends on personal contacts and back and forth negotiations that are managed manually on Excel spreadsheets.
“It just so slow and manual,” said Monnet. “You have big Excel spreadsheets with the different rights (TV, movie rental, subscriptions, theatre, non-commercial, music, producer and actor etc.) for the different countries and it’s a lot of tracking and a lot of manual information in their heads. So, it takes a lot of time, resources, and … time. There’s a lot of back and forth. They are representing the rights of the producers and they have to check with them, so it just a lot of manual dealing.”
Being the Silicon Valley techie, Monnet had an idea of a product that would speed up the process but decided that the industry wanted to move licensing slowly to make sure that they were doing the correct process and working with the correct partners.
The Cinessance team has proven its business acumen by building a company within a year and offering services starting mid-November. Even though obtaining licenses is slow, the company has worked fast to develop a catalogue of French movies for the U.S. and Canadian marketplace. Current funding for the start-up is angel investors and what is called “friends and family funding”, but Cinessance is preparing for a venture capital round in both France and the U.S.
According to Monnet, the company will be in just the U.S. and Canada for a year or more before expanding to other countries because the market is already huge, and he expects to build a multi-million-dollar business before expanding. The next targets will be South America, then Asia, Europe and Africa.
“You need to have a very solid product market offer and brand before expanding to other countries,” he said. “Expansion, in order to do it right, takes a lot of energy and focus, and you must have a very solid base.”
Monnet began developing his personal base in Clermont-Ferrand, France, in the Auvergne where he graduated from business school. He then held jobs in Singapore, China and the U.S. He has made sure that his favourite movies are in the Cinessance lineup including Archimède le Clochard, Quatre Garçons pleins d’Avenir and Max et les Ferrailleurs.
Perhaps some of Monnet’s (and Cinessance’s) success strategy was learned from the Four Friends with a Future (Quatre Garçons pleins D’Avenir) and other favourite movie characters.
Cinessance is available on the web and through mobile apps on iOS and Android. Users will be able to broadcast on their TV with Chromecast and Airplay and plans are to be directly integrated into the SmartTV channels sometime in 2022.
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