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Cannes 2021

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

Could an agreement be on the cards on the subject of French media chronology?

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CANNES 2021: Seemingly close to concluding, final negotiations between industry professionals and streaming platforms based in France formed the focus of a CNC debate

Could an agreement be on the cards on the subject of French media chronology?
During the debate

A huge elephant in the room loomed over the CNC debate held on Saturday 10 July: the issue of French media chronology. The panel who had gathered together at the CNC’s pavilion first welcomed the progress of negotiations between industry professionals and streaming platforms: both the CEO of the French Union of Writers and Playwrights (SACD) Pascal Rogard, who was also the moderator of the debate, and the assistant director of the CNC Olivier Henrard had ringside seats at these lengthy negotiations, supported on the European side by Luis Chaby Vaz, who’s the chair of the European Film Agencies Directors Association (EFAD), an association bringing together CNC equivalents in 35 European countries, and Laurence Farreng, a French Member of the European Parliament and Coordinator of the Culture and Education Committee.

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The task as it stands is to lay the final cornerstones for a sophisticated legislative structure intended to support French creators in the face of mighty streaming platforms, without causing the entire house of cards to come tumbling down. According to Olivier Henrard, the end is in sight: "We’ve secured more funding for French and European creation, strengthened the position of national broadcasters, protected the French approach towards copyright and preserved the independence and diversity of national production." Since 2018, the CNC has been collecting tax on the turnovers of free or paying platforms, which required 5 years of negotiation in and of itself. During this time, the AVMD Directive was passed by the European Commission, and France voted for its transposition via a decree which has been in force since 22 June: 20 to 25% of these platforms’ turnovers is now re-routed towards investments in independent, French audiovisual production, 1/5 of which going to films. What’s more, the CNC will only allow those platforms respecting French copyright law to access its funds.

Carole Scotta (Haut et Court), an independent producer, as well as a distributor (she’s CEO of Dire), was quick to remind attendees that this is a matter of cultural importance, as well as an economic issue: "we need to make sure the investments put forward by platforms aren’t only directed towards a limited number of films or series which everyone is asking for at the same time. The margins feed the centre." She also referenced the series The Returned which Haut et Court produced alongside Canal +, which was based on Robin Campillo’s 2004 feature film of the same name and for which they sought out the talent of young director Fabrice Gobert, who was discovered in Cannes in 2010 - a time of discovery and development in which the platforms played no part...

In terms of broadcasters, Director of Cinema and International Development Manuel Alduy was attending on behalf of France Télévisions, and Yohan Bernard put in an appearance on behalf of Amazon, for whom he is the director of public affairs for Europe. As the only spokesperson for the platforms (Netflix is virtually absent from Cannes this year), he mentioned the first steps in French production taken by Prime Vidéo: in terms of series, Mixte will be followed up by Totems, Miskina, and Cédric Klapisch’s Salade grecque. As for cinema, he cited The Mad Woman’s Ball [+see also:
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by Mélanie Laurent, Flashback by Caroline Vigneaux and I love America by Lisa Azuelos. It’s worth pointing out that an Amazon Prime subscription costs 49 euros a year, which is far lower than those of its competitors, whose prices range from 150 to 200 euros per year. Consequently, there are some who believe Amazon’s calculation base for its obligations and taxes is understated, bordering on "loss leader selling".

As it stands, there are two reforms which are still en route: the revision of the TNT decree, so as to strengthen the position of long-term broadcasters and ensure their investments are profitable, and that of the famous media chronology.

This French cultural exception must be renegotiated once again within this brand-new context. Speaking on behalf of EFAD, Luis Vaz reminded attendees that even though there are only two countries who resort to a media chronology in Europe, "the important thing is to guarantee the circulation of European films, as well as respect for the role played by exploiters and distributors." French exploiters, who are only just hitting their stride again, are fighting for their movie theatres. Canal + is probably the TV network which stands to lose the most if its distribution window is reduced. As such, negotiations between professionals are proving tough, as stated by Manuel Alduy who worked at Canal + for a long time before moving on to Fox and, later, France Télévisions. "When you’re swimming in deep water, sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut”, he summarises. “Even now, when the legal supply of films is overabundant, we free-to-air channels have never questioned our obligations and our place in the chronology. The public has the right to access free films on TV, and for our part, we need to lower the average viewer age for France Télévisions." He cited the 3.7 million viewers who tuned in to watch Andréa Bescond and Eric Métayer’s Little Tickles [+see also:
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on France 2, while emphasising the importance of catch-up TV, which is the favoured mode of consumption for younger viewers: "Our editorial approach for the future will rely on the possibility of playing with linear and non-linear formats."

As for the platforms... They’re asking to be allowed to experiment, as summarised by Yohan Benard on behalf of Amazon: "if we want to build a lasting plan, we need greater flexibility in this chronology, not least because the diversity of actors, formats and technologies we are seeing has never been so great." It’s an argument based on demand, whereas producer Carole Scotta places focus on supply: "The promotion of works begins in movie theatres, then via VOD and Canal +. It’s afterwards that it starts to get complicated: platforms often stream in 180 countries so there’s a real lack of clarity for rightsholders. It’s also a civic issue: is it normal that, today, certain American films can only be seen by subscribers who pay?"

Will they manage to strike the right balance between now and the start of the next school year? It’s impossible to say, but the Minister for Culture who concluded the debate has taken up a forceful position on the matter: if negotiations between professionals over the media chronology aren’t concluded within the coming weeks, she will appeal to the government. As summarised by Roselyne Bachelot: "it’s not just about love, it’s about proof of love". Consequently, the platforms will need to provide proof. But other sources of pressure are also available via Europe: the "digital service act", which is due to come in very soon, as mentioned by Laurence Farreng, should serve to regulate platforms’ responsibility in terms of content, while France, the most highly mobilised country in this debate, is set to take over the Presidency of the European Union in January 2022.

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(Translated from French)

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