How French TV is going global thanks to streaming

Lupin, Marseille, Call My Agent - French Netflix series are making waves abroad, so is the streaming giant making French TV go global?

How French TV is going global thanks to streaming
The Louvre pyramid plays a central role in the blockbuster series Arsène Lupin. Photo: AFP

Shortly after its release, Lupin, a new French Netflix series set in Paris, shot to the top of viewers' lists across the world.

By starring French actor Omar Sy as the trickster Arsène Lupin, Netflix managed to turn a character first created in 1905 into an instant global blockbuster.

“Merci,” Sy tweeted to thank viewers in the United States, where Lupin became the number one most watched show on Netflix – a feat it also achieved in Belgium, Bresil, Morocco, Sweden, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the United Arab Emirates (as well as France).



Lupin might be the most remarkable French Netflix success, but it's not the first French series available on the streaming giant to make it big outside France.

Other examples include Marseille, a 2016 political potboiler series starring Gérard Dépardieu; Who Killed Little Gregory (Grégory), a 2019 mini documentary series digging into a decades-old murder in a French small-town; and Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent), a drama series about the daily struggles of French movie star agents (for fans of this, a new series hits Netflix later in January).

“There have been a few solid successes in exporting French series,”  Lindsey Tramuta, an American writer and author based in Paris, told The Local. 

Compared to series like Call My Agent and The Bureau (Le bureau des légendes), the successful French spy series produced by Canal +, “Lupin is certainly more Hollywood-esque in its treatment,” Tramuta said.

“It's resonating,” she added, “it’s the first French series to debut in Netflix’s top ten list.”

Netflix begun a charm offensive in France years ago, eager to tap into world of French television. 

Through Lupin, the platform may have found the successful recipe for exporting French TV series. Tramuta explained the strong international success by its international promotion.

“Big budget; compelling escapist storyline; the popularity and growing name recognition of Omar Sy (who is terrific); and absolutely fantastic scenes of Paris old and new, including neighbourhoods rarely depicted in major productions with a global target audience,” she said.


Sy was already known internationally for his performance in Les Intouchables (The Untouchables), a French comedy drama about the disabled Philippe (François Cluzet) and his unlikely carer (Sy), which won several awards and became the second biggest box office hit in France.

Lesser known French stars have gained international fame through their performances in series available on Netflix.

Camille Cottin, who plays the ruthless and brilliant agent Andréa in Call My Agent!, later made the leap into major Hollywood roles, currently shooting a Stillwater, a film in which she costars with Matt Damon.

French actress Camille Cottin. Photo: AFP

Playing to the stereotypes

Beyond their hefty budgets – which other producers struggle to match – Netflix's own French series have in common that they play into stereotypes about the France and the French.

“There is a desire to seduce an international audience with national stereotypes,” Marie-France Chambat-Houillon, a director of studies in communication and media at Paris’s Sorbonne-Nouvelle University, told The Local.

In the series Marseille, politicians are depicted as corrupt, coke-snorting backstabbers who have sex on balconies and fraternise with criminal gangs to gain power.

This is based on a common stereotype about Marseille that is neither new nor foreign.

But Nicolas Maisetti, a political researcher at the Gustave Eiffel University Paris-Est, previously told The Local that continuing to portray Marseille as a crime-ridden, mafia-infested city had harmful effects on the city itself.

With Netflix, that stereotype has gone global.

Another – perhaps even more glaring – example is Netflix's American production Emily in Paris.

In France, the series caused loud debates over what critics said were naive depictions of the French capital and taunt portrayals of its inhabitants. Yet the series was widely watched in France and became a big success abroad.

READ ALSO: 'Vile snobs': Why are the French so annoyed about Emily in Paris?

Covid-19 has been a disaster for the French cinema industry. Photo: AFP

The Covid effect

But stereotypes aside, what does Netflix mean for French television?

Before Covid-19, many warned about the negative impact streaming platforms like Netflix on traditional cinema and TV production, sucking up all oxygen with their enormous budgets.

As lockdown hit, Netflix's influence seemed bigger than ever, as people across the world flocked to their TVs, binging one series after the other to forget about the chaos outside.

“It's true that streaming platforms certainly benefited of the lockdown effects, but so did traditional television,” Chambat-Houillon.

“Seeing as our social links were broken, we needed to find a new collective,” she said.

While Covid-19 had a catastrophic impact on the French cinema industry, sending their incomes plunging as movie theatres closed. But traditional television actually gained in strength, according to Chambat-Houillon.

“I'd say the pandemic has even let French television regain its breath,” she said.

'Netflix is not the enemy' 
But in order to be able to compete with global streaming platforms in the future, French television industry has to evolve, according to Julien Jourdan, an associate professor at the French business school HEC.

“Netflix is neither the enemy, nor the saviour,” he told The Local.

Netflix has also opened up the doors for French producers to reach a global audience, just like it has for Spanish, Italian, Scandinavian producers. Its subtitling and dubbing services has made it easier than ever to watch foreign films.
When released, Lupin was immediately made available dubbed in English, Arabic, German and Brazilian Portuguese. 

But Jourdan said “the big challenge in France is that the industry is not able to adapt or renew itself. It's a very rigid system.”
While others had developed successful streaming services to compete with Netflix, France so far had not.

“That's the big challenge for France, adapting to the new world,” Jourdan said.

Member comments

  1. I have watched “Call My Agent” in previous seasons and enjoyed it. Presently I watch more French mystery series on Amazon Prime through the MHZ and PBS Masterpiece channels with Walter Presents than on Netflix. Programs broadcast in the US include Spiral (a little too raw fro me), Murder In…, Magellan, Mafiosa, The Art of Crime, Antigone 34, Speakerine, Olivia, The Paris Murders; among others.

  2. I am fascinated that Netflix France offers Diz Pourcent with french subtitles only but in Australia it offers english subtitles. Lupin on Netflix france offers subtitles in both languages.

  3. I’m more concerned that many US tv series are dubbed and Netflix does not offer a choice of watching it in English.

  4. There is no mention in the article of Spiral or Engrenages which is currently on iPlayer. I have followed it from the beginning. It is groundbreaking drama with a wonderful female leading character. When Caroline Proust who plays the police captain, Berthaud came to the French Institute she received a standing ovation. There has never been such inspirational but tough female character who is at the same believable.

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Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.