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ARP FILM MEETINGS 2021

Industry reps wrestle with the Gordian knot of funding and media chronology in France

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- Doubts over Canal+ within the context of streaming platforms’ entry into the funding system and over media chronology windows form the focus of a heated debate at the ARP Film Meetings

Industry reps wrestle with the Gordian knot of funding and media chronology in France
A moment from the debate (© ARP)

The two empty chairs which had been reserved on stage for Canal+ and Netflix, who had both declined to attend the debate last Friday at the ARP Film Meetings or to join other representatives of the French film industry and various governmental figures to discuss  the matter of "Cinema and Broadcasters: The New Relationship", speak volumes on the sensitive and intricate situation unfolding. On the one hand, SVOD platforms are now obliged to help fund French production (since 1 July, following the transposition into law of the European directive), and, on the other, agreements between the French film industry and its main backer Canal+ are in the process of renegotiation, all intertwined with discussions on media chronology (which continue to drag on, although the Minister for Culture has reiterated the extension decree’s 10 February 2022 deadline). These highly technical discussions are unlikely to please those who dream of obliterating media chronology (windows dictating the order in which works can be broadcast by various media groups following their cinema release), but they’re nonetheless essential for the protection (via funding and respect for various criteria, notably in terms of independence) of diversity in creation, amidst a strained global context brought about by the pandemic and by the current deficit in cinema admissions compared to their pre-health-crisis levels.

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True to form, Alain Sussfeld (administrator of UGC and a member of the French Association of Independent Producers) lay the raw data down on the table: "Today, free TV services contribute up to €120m per year in French and European film pre-purchases; Canal+ is obliged to invest €174m (of which it is only paying €144m, in our opinion), Ciné+ contributes €20m and OCS roughly €40m. First and foremost, there’s the prospect of OCS’ demise over the long term, and, in the short term, a drop from 40 to €20m. Then there’s the threat hanging over Ciné+’s €20m, because Canal believes the competition is very strong in this domain. As for Canal+ itself, without a signed agreement, its obligations are estimated to be between 110 and €140m. As such, the industry stands to lose €40m overall and another €40m if no agreement is signed with Canal; in other words an €80m drop in funding.

In our negotiations with Canal over the past year, we have been trying to secure funding from them, regardless of the way in which they broadcast works, on the basis of €170m over three years for Canal+ and €20m per year for Ciné+, totalling €190m per year. We would also like them to pay an extra €60m (to clear the shortfall in their contributions over the past few years), which would be broken down into payments of €20m per year over three years. In all, the agreement provides for €210m per year for three years.

If this agreement isn’t signed, we will be at liberty to press charges, which would result in an even greater sum of money, but at a later date. We need to secure funding now, in an evolving environment. If the agreement is signed, we would allocate Canal+ a broadcasting window opening six months after a film’s cinema release, whereas platforms would have to wait 15 months: that would mean nine months of exclusivity for Canal+. As it stands, we’re 90-95% there on an agreement, but until the agreement is actually signed, it doesn’t exist. But I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to finalise this agreement with Canal+, unless they’re feeding us empty promises... The Smad decree definitely secures funding in the absence of an agreement, but the media chronology extension decree ends in February, so we have to come to an agreement before 15 December. We need to take part in these negotiations to see them through. If certain parties don’t negotiate, the resulting chronology might penalise them.

In terms of Netflix, funding should be at 30 to €40m with diversity. As for Disney, it’s difficult to work out which film funding obligations they should be set, because their main editorial line is clearly film, but technically it’s audiovisual. And they have a home-made production logic, even if Star does seem committed to local content, so it’s tricky. Lastly, in terms of Amazon, we’ve been given promises but no fixed sums, for the time being.

Overall, we stand to lose €80m in funding but also to gain €80m."

Marc Missonnier (Moana Films), vice president of the French Union of Film Producers also shared his view on the matter: "Over the past ten years, French film has lost 40 % of its funding. We’ve worked this out to be €70m per year, which is the amount platforms will contribute to French film in the first instance. But long-standing operators will also need to maintain their contributions.

If we don’t reach an agreement with Canal+, the result in terms of media chronology would be that Canal+ would have to wait 9 months (following a film’s cinema release) while platforms would only have to wait 12 months, for example. What risk are posed by the current situation? The three coming years will constitute a transition period: platforms will contribute, but not significantly compared to long-standing broadcasters. So the short term goal is ensuring a relatively smooth transition. Our aim is also to encourage platforms to contribute towards the same film alongside other partners, so that filmmakers and producers keep their freedom."

Édouard Mauriat (Mille et Une Productions), feature films vice-president within the Union of Independent Producers, also offered his thoughts on the situation: "We’re catching a glimpse of what our funding model might actually look like. We’re incorporating large American platforms into our system. If Canal+ wants to keep its place in the media chronology, it needs to invest heavily; if this is the case, Canal+ could broadcast a work 6 to 15 months after its cinema release. Platforms chose not to take up that position, so their window will fall 15 to 22 months after a film’s cinema release, depending on the agreements which have or haven’t been signed with organisations representing French film."

Last but not least, MP Aurore Bergé stressed the critical importance of the legal framework laid down by France: "we’ve introduced safety devices to prevent platforms exonerating themselves from collective rules protecting diversity. We have to be clear-minded, there’s a risk of legal disputes, but these safety devices are necessary in order to avoid predation."

It’s a situation to monitor, and, as the ARP’s Managing Director Mathieu Debusschère pointed out in an interview with Cineuropa, in the very short term, "everything depends on Canal."

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(Translated from French)

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