Meet the French innovation scout who also wrote a film about terrorism

Meet the French innovation scout who also wrote a film about terrorism

Frédéric Josué is a Parisian TV writer and advertising executive who scouts the world, including Tel Aviv, to figure out where the media industry is going

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

Frederic Josue (Courtesy)
Frederic Josue (Courtesy)

Frédéric Josué, director of 18Hubs for Havas Media, was at a restaurant with his wife on the evening of November 13 when Paris was attacked. When they heard the news, they rushed home to the 10th arrondissement, where their three kids were home alone.

“People were running in the streets, yelling ‘Hide yourself,’ Josué told The Times of Israel. “Cops were running around with guns, they yelled at people to lock themselves in the restaurants and bars and stay there.”

Eerily, just six months ago, Josue and his co-creator Shaun Severi debuted a fictional series on French television that envisioned almost precisely such an attack.

The series, called FRAT, is about a French-born radical jihadist whom intelligence officers are interrogating to find out the target of an upcoming attack.

“It takes place in 2017 after a series of terrible attacks,” Severi, who directed the series, said, “ just before the French elections.”

In one scene, the radio is playing in the terrorist’s cell and the announcers mention a recent attack “in the heart of Paris that killed 190 people and wounded 1,250.”

Severi says that Josué came up with the idea for the series after the attacks on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19, 2012. But it was only after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year that French television station Canalplay greenlighted the series, which Josué and Severi wrote and produced in two months.

“The series treats the motivations and mindset of the jihadist and the difficulty the special unit have in extracting information using all the methods they have,” says Severi.

Throughout the series, the special unit officers fight over how to interrogate the suspect. One prefers coercion and torture, while the others favor a more empathic approach, trying to befriend the jihadist and lead him to question his loyalties. Josué, a former secret agent himself during his military service, says they interviewed former security officials in Israel for background. Josué and Severi said FRAT was a huge success in France and is being sold internationally.

“This series is an open dialogue and a search in what happens after such attacks to avoid them happening again,” says Severi, “and what can and what can’t be done. It asks questions and gives no answers.”

The Israel connection

Frédéric Josué is a futurist by profession, but most of the time he predicts much happier things. In fact, The Times of Israel originally approached him for an interview in his role as global executive adviser to the chairman of Havas Media, a Paris-based multinational advertising and public relations firm with 17,500 employees worldwide. Through its parent company the Bollore Group, Havas also has ties to Vivendi, which owns DailyMotion, Canal+ and Universal Music.

Josué is responsible for the company’s 18Hubs research and innovation center, a program that scouts the most cutting-edge technology at the intersection of media, content, technology, and data science. To this end, Josué opened hubs in three cities, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tel Aviv, which he believes are ahead of the curve in terms of culture and technology. The Times of Israel interviewed Josué to learn why he thinks Israel may hold the key to the future of the adtech industry. Then the Paris attacks happened, and it turned out the Josue had inadvertently predicted their approximate time, place and scale as well.

Watch 18 Hubs Frederic Josue's speech from yesterday at Technion in Haifa with French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron

Posted by 18 Havas on ceturtdiena, 2015. gada 29. oktobris


Turning to the subject of adtech, Josue explains that in Israel, 18Hubs’ local manager Doron Tal identifies early-stage startups that may interest Havas. Havas also partners with the Technion in developing breakthroughs in machine learning and natural language processing to help better target advertising online. Havas has developed an algorithm to allow advertisers to operate across many demand-side platforms at once and the Technion’s research is expected to keep the platform a step ahead of the competition.

Josué, who is not Jewish, made his first trip to Israel five years ago and now visits every 3-4 months. What attracts him to Israel, he says, “is the balagan and chutzpah,” using Hebrew words for disorder and brashness.

“In France, we are driven by hierarchy and strong Napoleonic, top-to-bottom government. In Israel, people will say no to their boss. That’s interesting to me. I strongly believe that innovation comes from the power to fail, to follow what you believe without having to consider your boss.”

On November 16, Bollore Group employees held a moment of silence for their nine coworkers killed in the Paris attacks (Facebook)
On November 16, Bollore Group employees held a moment of silence for their nine coworkers killed in the Paris attacks (Facebook)

Another aspect of Israel that Josué found interesting was that the government provides up to 80 percent of seed funding for many startups.

Some of the startups that most excited Josue the last time he was in Israel, at September’s DLD Conference, include WSC Sports, a platform that automatically creates customized videos for users containing the sports highlights they are most interested in; Oggii, a coin-sized collar-mounted device that detects health problems in dogs, and optimizes their activity level and diet; and Homage, a company that allows you to create stickers and emoticons using your own image.

Finally, there is Articoolo, a startup that replaces human writers with an algorithm that generates articles automatically.

Are robots replacing culture producers?

This prompts The Times of Israel to ask Josué whether he perceives a danger to culture if algorithms are replacing human writers and video makers.

Josué says he is cognizant of predictions, such as those put forward by French economist Daniel Cohen, that the replacement of humans by machines is creating a brutal global economy in which “work hard or get laid off” is replacing the ethic of “work hard and get higher wages.”

Josué says that a few weeks ago he was speaking to film director Martin Scorsese, who confided that he was terrified of the rise of robots.

“I told him about Caravaggio,” says Josué, referring to the 16th century Italian painter who is thought to have used a camera obscura to create his paintings. “Creators have always used technology to make their creations. But technology must not do the decision-making, or the creation itself, this is not possible or sustainable. This is what I teach my students,” he says, referring to Josué’s longstanding course on Entertainment and the Culture Industries at Sciences Po.

Josué also acknowledges that a lot of people hate advertising, as evidenced by the rise of adblockers online. But he also believes that advertising is the only business model that can currently sustain news media and other cultural expression. This, despite the fact that advertisers are willing to pay less and less per thousand impressions.

Josué with with the French ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv in September (Facebook)
Josue with with the French ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv in September (Facebook)

“Steven Spielberg made a lot of crappy movies to finance “Schindler’s List,” Google is doing advertising to finance their great initiatives in transport, health and outer space. I don’t think there’s any other way to finance media, depending on what you mean by media. It’s true that it’s hard to express your thoughts in a free way when you have advertising but that’s not new, it’s been this way for 200 years.”

The other option is for very rich people to buy newspapers, as when Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.

“We still have to find the right equilibrium. I don’t see advertising ever dying.”

Josué says he believes we are in a moment of transition and it is impossible to predict how journalism, art and culture will be financed 5-10 years from now.

“We are seeing the cake being made but we don’t know what the cake will be.”

The link between culture and innovation

18Hubs opened an office in Tel Aviv in 2014 and Josue will open hubs in three other cities, Recife, Brazil, Beijing and somewhere in Africa, next year. Ultimately, he decides to locate his hubs in places that are rich in culture.

“The world is not flat,” he says, “culture means something.” When he brought Havas chairman Yannick Bollore to Israel a few years ago, he first made him read Chaim Potok, Primo Levi, Albert Cohen and other Jewish authors.

“These were authors that really touched me.”

As for Paris, Josué described the unique culture of his neighborhood, the multicultural 10th arrondissement, in a Facebook post the day following the attacks.

“France is beautiful. France is the 10th and 11th arrondissements, two corners of the world that were attacked yesterday. Arabs, Jews, Pakistanis, Indians, Kurds, Armenians, Turks, Chinese, Romanians…beautiful girls and handsome boys of all races and religions kissing passionately in the street, homosexuals, bisexuals, leftists, anarchists from the left and right, bigots, people like me who are agnostic, people with no baccalaureate, PhDs of every kind, artists, actors, producers, musicians, painters, models filling the often dirty streets, and restaurants, among the best in the world because we love to eat and drink in these two neighborhoods, we go to sleep late, often drunk on love.”

“Long live France because we are all beautiful, free because we are different, free because we are secular, and as Céline wrote in Journey to the End of Night, a fucking melting pot.”

Josué says that contrary to popular perception Paris is a small city, and “we all know someone” who was killed or wounded in last week’s attacks.

“I am not a politician so I don’t have answers that I can share, unfortunately. We are all sad. And one thing is for sure. We will party, drink, sing, live and have sex ten times more, hand in hand with all the communities that make up France.”

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