Launched in september 2010, ITV1's ratings juggernaut Downton Abbey arrived yesterday night in France on TMC, the DTT channel which aired the recent Agatha Christie's Poirot TV movies.
Series one of Downton Abbey, the lavish period drama penned by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), started yesterday in France on digital terrestrial channel TMC - owned by private channel TF1. One month after the second series finished its run on ITV1 with more than 10 million viewers (1). When the news that TF1 acquired Downton went public it actually raised a certain amount of perplexity, as the big budget and multi-awarded costume drama from Carnival Films (which is owned by NBC Universal) doesn't fit the channel's drama line-up. But TF1 owns DTT channels TMC and NT1, and TMC aired the latest Agatha Christie's Poirot in prime time this autumn.
French viewers love British detective stories and the Belgian detective sleuth gets more than decent ratings, even in repeats. Last summer TMC re-ran Poirot on afternoons with an average of 400.000 to 500.000 viewers... while pubcaster France 2 re-aired different episodes simultaneously with the same numbers! DTT saturday nights are usually ruled by The Simpsons, whose reruns are regularly followed by more than a million viewers. Last september TMC aired The Clocks, a 2009 Poirot, on a saturday night and won a #4 with 1.295.000 viewers (6.2%). Last week, Murder on the Orient Express caught 1.035.000 viewers (4.2%). The episode was immediately followed by a promo for Downton Abbey.
Both Agatha Christie's Poirot and Downton are period dramas, both are Brit and Carnival Films even produced Poirot for a while. TMC announced the arrival of Downton last september and waited the pre-Christmas holiday season to air it as a television event, but with a twist: the first four episodes yesterday night (from 8.45 pm to past midnight) (2) and the remaining three next week. In France, there's only one programme per prime time and dramas are frequently aired with two or three episodes a week - the third one being generally a rerun. Poirot is feature-length and a repeat is aired back-to-back with brand new episodes. Whereas the first series of Downton Abbey has a 1 x 65-minute premiere and 6 episodes around 48 minutes each, less advert time, but four episodes the same night is no less than force-feeding.
At least TMC wisely made it available in "multilingual" mode (French + original dialogues), which was deeply appreciated for some good reasons. 878.000 viewers (3.7%) watched Downton's first episode - Poirot's Hallowe'en Party captured 950.000 viewers (4.1%) on november 26 - while the three others were followed by 700.000 (4.9%).
(2) They were repeated this afternoon.
All ratings from http://www.ozap.com/ except http://www.toutelatele.com/article.php3?id_article=37084 (In French)