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Turbulent times for the French model

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- Animated debate on hopes to loosen up media chronology and new stakeholders contributing to the funding of works

Turbulent times for the French model
An image from the panel (© Julien Attard / L'ARP)

'A critical period', 'a key moment', 'profound change', 'destabilisation', 'scourge': shocking words, prophetic incantations, tentative steps forward and restrained sparring between the various participants drove the debate 'Film and broadcasters: towards a new e-deal', which was held in Dijon as part of the 26th Film Meetings organised by the ARP (Civil Society of Writers-Directors-Producers).

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Professionals agree that the way in which films are watched is changing so rapidly that it is vital for traditional broadcasters to adapt and add value in some way, otherwise they will simply be wiped off the map for good. It is they who currently provide most funding for French and European film, and the current shift in power from TV broadcasters to content providers (Internet service providers, etc.) is not necessarily compatible at first glance with the highly sophisticated model for funding films in France and its media chronology, which gives airtight windows of exclusivity to different media (first cinemas, then DVD and pay-as-you-go VoD, then pay TV, freeview on co-producing TV channels, etc; right up to subscription video-on-demand services operating in France, which gain the rights to works 36 months after they have been released in theatres, to the great displeasure of Netflix and others).

Two main points of progress have come out of the debate in Dijon. On the one hand, Michel Combes, the CEO of telecommunications giant SFR, who doesn’t hide his enthusiasm for audiovisual content, announced that he would be willing to negotiate with professional associations to fund French films,  whilst making it very clear that he would like to see the window for subscription video-on-demand services widened: “As soon as I contribute, I should have some flexibility in how I broadcast works.”

On the other hand, Maxime Saada, director general of the Canal+ group, which is currently facing a few problems (a fall in subscriptions and a tainted image) but is still the main pillar of funding for French film, repeated her proposals for reforming media chronology: bringing Canal’s window forward to six months after the release of a film instead of the current nine, whilst accepting that films will continue to be shown on pay-as-you-go VoD services at the same time (under the current system, films cease to be available on pay-as-you-go VoD services as soon as Canal’s period of exclusivity begins).

Those affected most directly, French producers present in Dijon made it clear that they would be in favour of such changes. Xavier Rigault (2.4.7 Films and Vice-President of UPC) summed up their point of view as follows: “This is a critical period. The French system has worked for years, but now it is struggling despite appearances and good results at the box-office. It’s suffering as a result of the problems facing television broadcasters; these traditional stakeholders are struggling, but they’re doing the best they can. As for these new stakeholders with a lot of resources, they’re mostly making a lot of promises at the moment, and up until now, Internet service providers have above all proved their talent for showing content free-of-charge. The foundation of our system is pre-funding, and you can’t add any value with on-demand services. That’s where we’re having problems with the new economy, which is centred around client satisfaction. We don’t want to simply meet the client’s expectations, we want to surprise them, and the algorithms aren’t moving in this direction (...) Our system rests on general interest, this is the foundation for our media chronology. If we start introducing non-linear into the equation, we have to respect certain obligations, as we need to move towards non-linear with added value.” 

It now remains to be seen how quickly the various negotiations will be concluded and if the categorical interests of each link in the film industry chain in France will accept the necessary compromises. As even if unanimously agrees, for example, to demand that the public authorities come up with coercive measures to keep piracy in check, the current market tensions may see everyone recant the advantages of a broadcasting/funding system that is so well-structured that it is hard to drive it forwards in one fail swoop. Short-term and short-sighted reasoning, given that the new economy is unfurling rapidly and its financial power will no doubt gobble up any weak links, even though it is also very clear that the ‘consumer’ - the French viewer - is rather different from their American counterpart. This is a difference that it would be worth leaning on with some urgency, to enact deep reform as opposed to just playing for time by squabbling, which risks leaving audiences open to sway by the global marketing frenzy of standardisation.

(Translated from French)

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