Industry Report: Digital
In search of a European alternative to the Netflix phenomenon
by Fran Royo & Sandra Echeverri
- A discussion on the American VoD platform's expansion within Europe and the other options available on the Continent
(l-r) Véronique Cayla and Sten Saluveer
The second conference of the European Film Forum was held during the first day of the event (read the news), which took place in Brussels from 1-2 December, and was dubbed "Innovation in Formats: Content Has No Borders", featuring panelists Sten Saluveer, director of industry at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, ARTE France president Véronique Cayla, Mikros Image CEO Gilles Gaillard, and Ivar Kohn of NRK Norway. Moderated by Domenico La Porta, of Cineuropa, this panel stressed the role that current platforms will have in the future in order to bring consumers closer to audiovisual content.
Netflix has landed in Europe and is here to stay
Ivar Kohn raised a question about how Netflix, which was almost unknown in Norway a few years ago, now has more than “70% of Norwegian households” watching the American platform. He believed that European producers are “missing something” about the audience demands that “have a lot to do with distribution and access”. Sten Saluveer pointed out that, when facing new players such as Netflix or Amazon, Europeans need to “set their sights on engagement and relevance”, as there is a “lack of distribution platforms and attractive formats”.
Netflix arrived in Europe in 2012 to great controversy and was attacked publicly by competitors such as Orange, Movistar + and Canal+, which slammed the fact that the American brand was relieved of the obligation to pay taxes in European countries by having its headquarters in Luxembourg. After shaking up the US landscape with its service, Netflix is now seeking subscribers in European countries, where it has been operating for a relatively short time and is consequently not up to full speed yet.
Its arrival in Spain, for example, occurred late and with a catalogue that was initially fairly weak. This is the barrier that Netflix has to overcome in Europe, especially in the south, but it almost certainly won't take it too long. Movistar +, its most serious competitor in Spain, owns the rights to certain Netflix series, which means that new episodes of fiction series such as Orange Is the New Black or House of Cards are not available on the Netflix platform, but via its competitors. Its catalogue varies from one territory to another, as well. What’s certain is that, in the future, Netflix will no longer sell the rights of its series to its European competitors, which has heightened the ill will towards the American VoD platform.
Netflix's expansion over just a few years, as shown in the graphic below from CSI Magazine, has allowed it to rack up more than 80 million subscribers around the world. It is present in more than 190 countries, clearly showing that the video-on-demand service that emerged in the year 2000 as a home videoclub has now evolved into an unstoppable giant. This has unavoidably led to a discussion about a potential platform that will promote European works and ensure their diversity.
HBO has also landed on nearly the entire continent and is dividing the market into HBO Nordic, including Sweden, Denmark and Finland; HBO Europe, which includes the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and the rest of the Eastern European countries where HBO is available; and a per-country marketing strategy for cases like Italy, Spain, the UK and others, taking into account the different sensitivities and conditions of each region.
A new possibility for the European audiovisual market
Véronique Cayla highlighted the fact that the online market is key to the future of the European audiovisual field. ARTE’s experiments with apps and other innovative formats have proven to be successful, as they do not focus “on a certain percentage of innovation, but on the quality and perspective of the projects”. Meanwhile, Saluveer remarked on the “necessity of supporting national broadcasters in experimenting with new formats (...) like virtual reality (...) with a view to long-term sustainability”, as happened with the Digital Single Market, which he considered to be a “trend-setters' gathering”. Gilles Gaillard was not overly optimistic about the rush to set up a platform system for European works, as he opined that content was a priority and that what Europeans are doing is “patiently building a reputation”.
The European Commission wants to add companies like Amazon and Netflix to existing legislation that ensures that national broadcasters dedicate around 20% of their offerings to the European television and film industry (as ARTE is currently doing), as a way to limit the wildfire-like spread of US content. The proposal aims to bolster investment in European film and TV production by bringing streaming services in line with existing regulations on traditional broadcasters, which are currently required to devote more than half of their programming to European content. The EU says the new rules would level the playing field and preserve cultural diversity, but Netflix says the requirements would distort the streaming market and hamper its personalised recommendation service. Therefore, it is clear that if an American brand claims to be a fervent defender of European titles, it is destined to end in failure.
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