So, the long awaited Ireland vs. France clash in group of the World Cup qualifiers (that’s football, by the way) is nigh. Kick – off was scheduled for 7:30pm GMT and everything was going fine. Until French TV channel TF1 muscled in, flashed the cash and got its way… Kick-off is now 25 minutes late, at 7:55pm.
TF1 is the biggest TV channel in France. In fact, I hear it’s the biggest TV network in Europe. It is also the Chelsea of terrestrial TV: what they want, they pay for and pay for well, whether it is TV rights or presenters in order to be the “best” although their definition of what the “best” is remains somewhat dodgy.
Something else worth bearing in mind is how sacrosanct prime time slots are in France. One of the things that amazed me when I first moved to England and then Ireland were the one hour programmes after 8pm. In France, on both major channels, the “Grande Messe du 20 heures” (big 8pm Mass) is pivotal. Programmes ahead of that slot are probably some of the most watched, despite the fact that it’s dinner time in most households and programmes in the 9pm are usually big 2 hour shows (either news – related or entertainment), or movies. You see, French don’t seem to “flick” that much and most people will watch the same channel all evening… Apparently…
Of course, this has a big impact on advertisement since it is THE cash cow for TV networks such as TF1. If you think you have it bad in Ireland, with 3 minutes breaks during and in between your favourite programme, breaks that last exactly 3 minutes and you know you can turn the kettle on, make it up the stairs to the bathroom and back before it ends? Think again.
In France, the news is over by 8:30pm and the main evening programme used to start around 8:35pm. A little bit of commercials, a little weather forecast and that was that. Grab your beer, dim the lights, get comfy (no feet on the coffee table, though) and we were set. Well, that was that 10 years ago. It progressively slipped to 8:45pm, then 8:45pm, 8:50pm… Now, we’re somewhere between 8:50pm and 8:55pm. Thing is, they haven’t slotted in another programme in between, oh no. Lucky French viewers are privy to 25 minutes of ads, trailers, and still a bit of weather forecast (with a sea weather forecast in the summer and snow forecast in the winter as a bonus). You might think that with 25 minutes of commercials during peak hours, TF1 would not need to interrupt its programmes to add even more brain-washing… Oh but they do. Every 25 minutes for about 5 minutes, sometimes more.
Patrick Le Lay, the 'Oh-so-wise’ CEO of TF1 was quoted in a book called Les dirigeants face au changement in 2004 and what he had to say was absolutely enlightening. “TF1's business is to help Coca-Cola sell its products” he said. “For an advert to be effective, the viewer's brain has to be available. Our programmes are made so that their brain becomes available, that is to say to entertain them, make them feel relaxed to get them ready between two commercials. What we sell Coca-Cola is available brain time.” In other terms, TF1 is nothing big a giant, continuous commercial break, barely interrupted by TV programmes.
You understand, dear Irish TV viewer, that priorities are priorities and that since TF1 are reported to be paying €1.6m to show the game in France, the FAI could do nothing but oblige. Now we understand that YOUR programme will end around 7:30pm GMT. Since you have 25 minutes to fill and since millions will be watching… could we suggest a big commercial break?