San Sebastián 2020 – San Sebastián Industry
Industry Report: European Policy
The European Film Forum navigates the choppy waters of the pandemic at San Sebastián
The Creative Europe MEDIA-organised event addressed how the industry can adapt to the cataclysmic sea change and the measures it needs to take to do so
The whole world is facing an unprecedented situation due to the COVID-19 crisis, and for some months now, European film professionals have been forced to rethink their approach to the market in order not to perish in their attempt to navigate the choppy waters of the storm caused by the pandemic. The European Film Forum is fully dedicated to finding out how to help the professionals do this, and after an initial post-pandemic edition during Cannes’ Online Marché du Film (see the news) and a second one in Venice, the Creative Europe MEDIA-organised event has now docked at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Held online and moderated by The Catalysts CEO AC Coppens, the panel saw the participation of professionals and institutional representatives, and it used the recent approval by the European Commission of the European recovery plan, Next Generation EU, as a starting point.
The effect of the crisis on the sector, in the eyes of European Audiovisual Observatory Department for Market Information head Gilles Fontaine, is “a forced complete transformation, albeit a previously incipient one”. Mentioning an estimated total loss of revenues of around €10 billion in the European Union in 2020, Fontaine pointed out that the sector’s income “had been stagnating for several years”, dependent directly on the industry’s shift to new methods of consumption and on a “business model primarily relying on (pre)financing, whose continuation is uncertain due to us not knowing whether or not SVoD will compensate for the decline in financing from other sources”. In this situation, “public funding may become even more important”.
Now, how to sail on successfully amidst this sea change? Head of Unit Audiovisual Industry and Media Support Programmes at the European Commission Lucía Recalde addressed what has been done during these difficult times. “We managed to allocate €1 million for the cinemas, which have been suffering the most during this crisis, and we implemented a guarantee facility to try to facilitate enterprises' access to liquidity. The €750 billion from Next Generation EU is not just to weather the storm, but really to invest in transformation, to help the industry reinvent itself. We would really like to mobilise the InvestEU programme to facilitate investment and equity for the industry.”
From the point of view of the professionals, a major concern was put into words by EFAD (European Film Agency Directors Association) president (and president of the board of directors of Portugal’s ICA [Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual]) Luis Chaby. “We need to know how this EU money will be distributed, exactly. We need more guidance, given that our companies are not used to using these funds. We need to know how we can benefit from other funding programmes such as Digital Europe, and we need an ambitious strategy from MEDIA that can provide greater support for co-productions. Besides this, we absolutely need VoD platforms to contribute to production, and to be completely transparent by sharing their data with public authorities.”
In a crisis during which the VoD platforms have been the main beneficiaries, this latter concern is becoming crucial for professionals. In fact, the business model seems to be adapting to the ever-growing importance of the streamers’ role in the value chain. According to head of sales and business development at French sales agent Playtime François Yon, there is also a shift happening in the sales business. “What we are doing now is detecting what content streamers and broadcasters like, and finding out in what ways our clients, the distributors, can survive. We will be doing less and less sales work, and we will be increasingly seen as 'enablers' of projects, setting in motion a global network in order for the project to have a better chance of being made,” he explained. Content manager at Movistar+ Álex Martínez Roig continued on this topic by mentioning the difficulties that streamers face when it comes to buying rights limited by territorial borders: “We lose every rights bid because we can only offer the content to Spain; we need to try out a pan-European platform that could fuel all of our businesses.”
On the other hand, EPC (European Producers Club) president Álvaro Longoria talked about the needs of producers in these times of crisis. Top of the list were an obligation for OTT services to invest in European works, a Best-practice Charter between independent producers and OTT services, and the creation of a COVID-19 guarantee/insurance fund for cross-border film and TV (co-)productions (which some countries have already put in place locally).
In order to hear from the institutions and discover the measures that they were putting in place, the panel also welcomed Spain’s ICAA (Institute of Cinematography and the Audiovisual Arts) director Beatriz Navas, Germany’s FFA – German Federal Film Board CEO Peter Dinges and Italy’s MiBACT DG Cinema and Audiovisual Research Unit coordinator Iole Maria Giannattasio.
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