‘Versailles’ Breaks Drama Launch Ratings on Ovation TV


PARIS — “Versailles,” the lush and sultry French period drama from Simon Mirren (“Criminal Minds”) and David Wolstencroft (“Spooks”) about King Louis XIV, has become the most-watched original launch to date on Ovation TV in the U.S.

Ovation TV, the arts-focus cabler, rolled out the first two episodes of the show at 10 p.m. on Oct. 1 and pulled a total combined audience of 557,000 viewers — three times more than the network’s average prime time audience in the 25-to-54 demo, according to Nielsen. The anticipation for the show was so big that viewership rose 27% from its lead-in movie and marked the network’s highest-rated drama premiere.

The cable network did not rely solely on positive word-of-mouth from Europe to make it happen: They flew in key cast members — George Blagden (who plays the king), Alexander Vlahos and Noémie Schmidt — along with co-creators/exec producers Mirren and Wolstencroft to participate in a creative promotional tour across the East Coast. The one-week campaign included social/digital support and live events in Washington and New York, which fueled a 1,296% rise in social-media mentions of “Versailles” in the week leading up to the launch, according to Ovation, which also pointed out a 170% increase in social engagement prior to the premiere. Parrot Analytics, meanwhile, observed that the demand for “Versailles” was 3.3 times greater on Nov.30, on the eve of the show’s kick-off.

Budgeted at 27 million euros ($30 million) and shot on location at the real Palace of Versailles outside Paris, the series was commissioned by French pay-TV company Canal Plus. It is the company’s second-most-watched original show, after “The Tunnel,” and has also aired on BBC Two in Britain.

In the U.S., where it will next bow on Netflix, “Versailles” required a healthy amount of promotion to entice American viewers who might not be familiar with this chapter of French history, which depicts the rise to power of Louis XIV, known as the most influential of all French kings.

Targeting upscale, influential and Francophile demos, Ovation TV hosted a premiere screening and panel discussion for “Versailles” at the French Embassy in Washington attended by 300 guests, including the show’s actors and producers, U.S. government officials, diplomats, and journalists.

Other high-profile events sponsored by Ovation in New York included a multi-course French dinner and a live performance by Lisa Zane at Bagatelle, a cocktail party and modern ballet performance at Beautique, and a masquerade party at The Box with a performance by the cast of “Queen of the Night.”

Produced by France’s Capa Drama (“Braquo”), Zodiak Media and Canada’s Incendo, “Versailles” initially raised eyebrows in France owing to the fact that it was shot in English, with British actors playing French royalty. But critics and audiences generally responded favorably. A special screening of the series at the Palace of Versailles, hosted by the International Emmy Awards in April, drew French President Francois Hollande.

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