Pan-European institutions discuss “The Audiovisual Sector in the Time of COVID-19”
- CANNES 2020: Representatives of the European Audiovisual Observatory, agencies and professional associations weighed in on the current situation and the crisis it has exacerbated, rather than created
Another Marché du Film panel dedicated to the current situation in the audiovisual sector, entitled “The Audiovisual Sector in the Time of COVID-19”, took place online on Tuesday. The European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) made a short documentary that lays out the development of the crisis, and what the Council of Europe, European Union and national governments have done to support the industry. The screening was followed by a short Q&A in which all 12 speakers from the film gave their opinions on what the future might hold, and how their organisations intend to cope with it. The main takeaway is that COVID-19 has accelerated negative trends, rather than creating them, that the unfair and unregulated dominance of digital platforms has to be mitigated, and that the key issue in continuing production is the insurance gap. The talk was moderated by Maja Capello, head of the Department for Legal Information at the EAO.
"Cinemas are reopening, and production is resuming with new safety considerations and also with increased financial risks, limited cash flow and extra expenses, so one point is essential for production: how are we going to fix the insurance gap?" said Benoît Ginisty, chief representative of the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF).
There is clearly a need for support for small and medium-sized enterprises to help them survive in the next six months, and European institutions have stepped up with many different funding opportunities. However, Elana Lai, secretary general of the European Audiovisual Production Association (CEPI), calls this "a labyrinth of funding. It's important to clarify where these companies can apply. Now it's too spread around, and we need more information about this," she warned.
Authors have been hit particularly hard in most countries. Although in France and Poland, the government has channelled the support through authors' societies, Cécile Despringre, executive director of the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), says, "Most other plans have been difficult to access for authors and artists due to the absence of a clear status."
The ones hit hardest by the crisis are, of course, the theatres. "Even before the crisis, we were in the middle of experimenting with different ways of distributing movies and dealing with theatrical windows," said Alina Popescu, secretary general of the International Federation of Film Distributors' Associations (FIAD). "At the moment, we don't have any answers, and it looks like the way films will be distributed will be assessed case by case, based on the potential of the work, the evolution of the market and the regulatory framework."
In the absence of big screens, audiences, content providers and festivals have turned to VoD platforms. "Unlike the US tech giants, we are working with cinemas, and many of our members are also cinema owners or distributors, and also broadcasters," explained Silvia Cibien, general delegate of EUROVOD. "People are consuming a lot more European, independent and local content. 85% of our platforms were able to respond to the need to bring content online quickly. We need to be more flexible and bring films where the audience wants to find them, and not force the audience to go where we want."
Meanwhile, traditional broadcasters are suffering from a massive slump in advertising revenue. "Commercial broadcasters have faced a unique paradox in the sense that we have never seen such a surge in the TV audience as citizens turn to trusted sources, yet at the same time, we have never seen such an advertising slump,” said Grégoire Polad, director general of the Association of Commercial Television (ACT). "In parallel with this, we've also never seen power concentrated in the hands of so few unregulated and unaccountable players."
Gilles Fontaine, head of the Department for Market Information at the EAO, also underlined this issue: "My bet would be that the winner of the crisis is internet advertising. If online advertising emerges stronger from the crisis than TV advertising, it means the money will completely flow out of the ecosystem. Because Facebook and Google are absolutely not key players in audiovisual production."
To regulate the platforms that distribute user-generated content and whose policies make authors’ revenue and statuses unstable, the Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market was adopted in the European Parliament last year. "It's a lot of work to have these measures implemented, but with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and Copyright Directive, we have plenty of tools to improve the financing of the sector by those players," said Despringre.
In the end, it comes down to the national agencies, and they have so far responded with numerous new financing schemes. France, Austria and the Netherlands have come up with solutions for the insurance gaps, "and now insurers are part of the solution", said Julie-Jeanne Régnault, secretary general of the European Film Agency Directors Association (EFAD). "We continue at the national level to push for solutions on the insurance front so that shooting can resume. We want SVoD and internet players to promote and finance EU works, abide by the rules and contribute to the ecosystem. It's of the utmost urgency to have a national and EU response through a recovery package."
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