Patrice Courtaban (SK 1997): TV5Monde USA, a great success story

08 November 2020

After studying at SKEMA Business School, Patrice Courtaban began a long international career in television. Now living in Los Angeles, he is at the head of TV5Monde USA. He talks to us about his educational background and his 17 years working for the famous French-speaking television network.

Can you tell us about your educational background and your choice to attend SKEMA Business School?

After attending a preparatory class, I joined the SKEMA Business School master’s in management programme on the Sophia Antipolis campus. I did my final year in the UK, at the University of Westminster. This enabled me to earn a double degree with SKEMA and to have my first experience of the professional world in London, working in television. At the time, SKEMA hadn’t yet developed the international network that exists today, but I felt that its location within the Sophia Antipolis technology park was a really great and exciting opportunity. I also remember that the initial contact during interviews with the school and when meeting students was very positive. These reasons motivated me to enrol at SKEMA, and while studying there I did discover that the school had a lot to offer.

What impressed you the most during your studies at SKEMA?

We got the chance to receive a very high standard of education, with professors from around the world, so we benefitted from a real global outlook. Before attending SKEMA, I hadn’t really thought about having a career abroad. But as I met different people and talked with professors and students from around the globe, I discovered all the opportunities that existed and I became really interested in living and working overseas. The school also has a very dynamic community life and I myself was a member of an audiovisual association. I learned a great deal from the association, both professionally and personally. In the end, my degree programme at SKEMA was really appropriate for the corporate world and it still is today. I think that SKEMA is undoubtedly a real springboard that has undeniably made me very open to the world.

You are currently a member of a SKEMA Business School board. What does this involve and what does this position bring you?

A few years ago, SKEMA decided to set up an American foundation to support the development of the Raleigh campus in the United States. The school then invited me to sit on this foundation’s Board. Our main goal is to find funding to offer scholarships to students and to develop the many projects on campus. This mission is even more important now with the COVID crisis. To help students who are facing difficulties in the current climate, SKEMA has actually launched a major fundraising campaign called SKEMA United which we promote over here to raise extra funds by mobilising SKEMA’s alumni, among others. For me, being part of the Board was a great opportunity to renew ties with the school and connect with other alumni. I really appreciate being able to give of my time and put my experience to good use to carry out the foundation’s ambitious plans.

Can you tell us about your career path so far and your early days at TV5Monde?

After my double degree in London, my first professional experience was in the British capital, working for a television station specialising in financial news. This was my first toe-dip in media and it is where I really started to learn the ropes. I spent one year there, then went to Stockholm in Sweden as part of a CNSE volunteer programme to do my French national service as a trainee in a corporate environment (now the VIE programme). Over there I continued to work in media, for a company that represented TV5Monde in the Nordic countries. That highly rewarding experience gave me the chance to learn a new language and to discover a fascinating culture. It also put me in contact with TV5Monde. After two years in Sweden I returned to France, to Paris, where I was put in charge of Eastern Europe, Central Europe and the Nordic countries for TV5Monde. It was then that I truly joined the TV5Monde corporate office. After that, I was offered the position of COO (Chief Operating Officer) for TV5Monde USA, in Los Angeles. At that time, the network had zero presence in North America, and the United States was the last major market left to conquer. The USA is the largest pay-tv market in the world in terms of revenue generated. It was a massive challenge and a great adventure that has become a real success story over the years.

How has the network evolved in the United States over the past few years?

At first we started with just the one channel, TV5Monde USA, specially created for America. And today we offer 7 thematic television services across the country. So we have considerably expanded our offering. I should mention, too, that the vast majority of our subscribers across the country are primarily Americans, because they are very interested in international culture. We target francophiles as a priority and all of our programmes are subtitled in English. Today, our offering includes in addition to the main TV5Monde USA channel: a channel for children (TiVi5MONDE), a lifestyle channel (TV5MONDE Style), a news channel (TV5MONDE Info), and a travel channel (TV5MONDE Voyage) that attracts 100,000 viewers each month. We’ve also introduced two on-demand services: a French movie service and a documentary service (TV5MONDE Docs). Today, we offer the network’s largest range of thematic channels. We are the only French-speaking television group on American soil and are increasingly gaining more recognition in the industry. And actually, TV5Monde USA was recently a nominee at a major awards ceremony recognising television network excellence in America. To us it was a real achievement to receive this sort of recognition and to have been selected alongside other major American networks like the Discovery Channel. I am also currently a Board member for NATPE, an organisation representing all stakeholders in the US television industry (studios, independent producers, distributors, etc.) and bringing together the top industry leaders in the country.  

What does the US market represent for TV5Monde these days?

To truly understand, it is important to know that TV5Monde is now a network of ten television channels worldwide. Each channel has its own programming for the country where it broadcasts. What makes the American market unique is that we launched a pay-tv channel there. Americans must therefore pay extra on top of their standard television bundle to get TV5Monde USA. Consequently, our programming is very focused on delivering premium content, with recent movies, sport, series, a number of local productions and no ads. Thanks to this offering, the USA is the market that generates the most income for the network. It is important to remember also that the industry is undergoing a radical transformation right now with the advent of streaming. Today, established players are trying to take control of this market, which started with platforms like Netflix and Amazon. Some major media companies are therefore launching more and more streaming services and gambling everything on this new D2C (Direct to Consumer) business model. This is the case for Disney +, Paramount, HBO Max,…

However, while it is undeniable that streaming is experiencing strong growth, the United States remains the n° 1 market in the world in terms of traditional pay TV, generating 90 billion dollars in revenue in 2019. For comparison, the world’s second largest pay TV market is China, which generates some 10 billion dollars in revenue. So although there is no denying that the market is declining, it remains very sizeable and the United States is driving this trend.

Do you have any advice for young alumni wanting to build an international career?

I think that when someone goes to a school like SKEMA Business School, they have a lot of goals and a great deal of career ambition. But I believe it is crucial to remain open to the opportunities that present themselves, and to remember that your career path when you graduate is not set in stone. On the contrary, it takes shape over the years and that is the beauty of it. I also think that adaptability is an essential quality to develop. Our world is changing very fast and our ways of working are constantly evolving, as we can see today. To me, adaptability is the quality a manager or company head must have in our modern world.

Contact: Patrice Courtaban (SK 1997), COO TV5 USA

Interview by for SKEMA Alumni