Netflix opens Paris office, plans new French-language series

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. television streaming company Netflix has opened a new Paris office and plans to develop more than 20 original French-language productions in 2020, it said on Friday.

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Launched in 2014 in France - where it employs 40 people, and has existing operations in Paris - Netflix has developed 24 French titles, including six films, nine series and three documentaries.

It plans to produce several new shows over the coming years as well as a range of series and films made by production partners.

Netflix has seen its customer base grow quickly in recent years thanks to a rich catalog of movies and series, allowing it to grab market share from long-established local pay TV operator Canal+ - a unit of media conglomerate Vivendi - which had 16.2 million subscribers at the end of 2018, including 8.3 million in mainland France.

In an interview with French weekly L’Express, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said his company now has 6.7 million subscribers in France and that the firm will invest more than 100 million euros to create new French-language content in 2020.

“We are becoming a major French producer, we are no longer just a machine to export Hollywood content,” he said, adding that he was set to meet with French president Emmanuel Macron.

Among the new productions are the new film BigBug, a comedy set in the future co-written by “Amelie” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and a series about gentleman-burglar Arsene Lupin, starring French actor Omar Sy.

Netflix’s offensive follows the French government saying it would force platforms such as Netflix to dedicate up to 25% of their French revenue to fund domestic French content production.

Netflix has come under fire in France for disrupting a finely regulated system of subsidies meant to encourage production of French-language films and series.

“Like Canal+, we recognize that we have obligations. But conversations about these are for later,” Hastings said at an event in Paris on Friday, triggering laughter from the audience, which featured Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and French culture minister Franck Riester.

Asked by L’Express whether Netflix would in future submit some of its productions in the annual Cannes Film Festival, Hastings said that in order to be admitted to Cannes, films need to be shown first in cinemas and then have to wait three years to be shown on streaming services.

“Our subscribers cannot wait that long. If we can take part without having to release in cinemas first, we will come back,” he said.

Netflix has more than 158 million paid memberships in over 190 countries, it said. The new French headquarters will be its fourth office in Europe.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Evans