France Channel joins growing list of niche streaming services

A new streaming service aims to capitalize on a growing trend of students who are enrolling in French language courses in the United States.

The France Channel quietly debuted earlier this month, offering hundreds of films and television programs at launch. Live international news is available to stream through a content partnership with France 24, the country's government-backed international news channel.

At the moment, the France Channel is supported only on Roku streaming devices, though streamers can also download the service on Apple and Android phones and tablets, then cast movies and TV shows using a Chromecast device. Support for other devices is coming down the road, according to the service's website.

"France Channel is the first 'Culturetainment; video streaming service where French culture and creation play the main role," a synopsis on the service's Roku listing says. "France Channel offers a unique 'Francetainment' experience: discover and explore France and the French lifestyle and learn French with French and English subtitles."

The launch of the France Channel adds to a growing list of streaming services that are sourcing and distributing content within a specific genre in order to cultivate an audience with niche interests.

Over the last few years, several of these services have popped up, offering anything from documentaries (Curiosity Stream, History Vault), horror films (Screambox, Shudder) and foreign programs (Britbox, Acorn TV).

While much of the attention in the so-called "streaming wars" is focused on attempts by Amazon, Apple, Disney and others to take on Netflix, some industry experts say there is plenty of space for smaller streaming services to co-exist with the giants in the room.

"There's 120 million [television] households in the U.S. alone, and everybody has different streaming interest," Jason Cohen, a former financial analyst and portfolio manager who later co-founded the streaming app marketplace, said in a phone interview. "There's room for all of these little streaming services to have 50,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 customers and still be successful."

Some of those hyperfocused streaming services are drawing even bigger numbers: Britbox, a service launched through a joint venture between BBC Studios and ITV, has  more than 1 million subscribers in North America, according to figures released by the company early last year. The company's success in North America convinced it to launch in the United Kingdom, where it grabbed another 500,000 subscribers.

Shudder, a streaming service launched by AMC Networks, found a similar measure of success with its catalog of horror movies and TV shows. Last year, AMC said Shudder had more than 1 million subscribers, becoming the second AMC-operated streaming service to reach that milestone (the company also operates Acorn TV, a Britbox competitor, which reached 1 million subscribers in late 2019).

Independent streamers

But those streaming services are backed by big-name media companies with the financial resources to market their startup products — something smaller streaming services, particularly those launched by independent media companies, may not have.

"For the smaller streaming services, that's a challenge," Cohen said. "How do they tell customers that they exist? How do they play in pools where people hang out?"

One idea floated by Cohen is to start an affiliate program, where bloggers are given a commission when they promote a streaming service. The idea has caught on with media companies as they seek coverage on marketing blogs that offer pseudo-editorial content designed to help cord-cutters ditch cable and satellite services for cheaper, streaming-only options.

Cohen's is another approach at distribution: The interactive service allows consumers to choose the kinds of live television channels they want to receive online, then points them to a handful of options collated from more than 100 vMVPD, SVOD and AVOD services. Obvious options like YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are suggested, but so are lesser-known products like Willow, a streaming service that offers cricket matches, and one called True Royalty, which offers programs on royal families from different countries.

France Channel's marketing strategy

Rather than send out a press release or launch an affiliate program, the France Channel went in a different direction. Just prior to its launch, the company's founder and CEO Julien Verley agreed to a handful of interviews with news outlets that target Francophones and the French community in the United States. (Despite several attempts, no one at the France Channel agreed to an interview; in a social media message, Verley said they were busy with the launch of the service).

"Today, the U.S. market shows an unmatched appetite for foreign content in general," Verley told Merci SF, a website that targets French speakers in San Francisco. "French is the second-most taught language in the U.S.A., [and] it was time to propose a 100% French offer that responds to this trend."

The France Channel is also slated to launch on Struum, a streaming television aggregator backed by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner that gives customers an allotment of credits to spend on individual movies and TV shows from more than 30 independent streaming partners. The France Channel's website says it expects to offer its content through Struum later this year.