The Berlinale’s European Film Market kicks off the year’s dealmaking for the European film industry in earnest.

In his business preview, Screen’s US editor Jeremy Kay notes how platforms such as Netflix might complicate the market.

But there’s more to worry about than new platforms. TV deals in Europe don’t make the sexy headlines that VoD players generate, but the drying up of old fashioned TV deals is having a bigger impact on business than the new entrants.

Last week’s issue of Screen pointed out how broadcast deals were shrinking for shorts. There are also complaints from documentary makers that documentary slots are becoming more scarce. And for feature films the situation is markedly different than it was a decade ago.

This is an issue that distributors have been concerned with for several years, as the situation gets worse. For me, it was an issue I started thinking about more during a special Europa Distribution workshop in Locarno last August.

It was roundly agreed that you can’t count on TV sales the way you once could — to explain it in plain terms, if a film distributor struck an all-rights deal for a film, they would expect to then make some of their money back by selling on the TV rights in their territory. If they can’t sell those rights, or they can only sell them for a lower price, that means they can afford to pay less for the all-rights deal.

That impacts not just distributors, but sales companies and producers as well.

It’s happening at all ends of the spectrum, as distributors say that even public broadcasters have become more commercially driven and reality-programme obsessed, and might not dedicate key slots to non-Hollywood films. European films outside their home markets are becoming a hard sell, especially as broadcasters earmark whatever film slots they have left to films they have co-produced themselves. ARTE is the dream model for most. And of course Sky still pays, but for bigger titles.

Deals are further complicated because broadcasters who are buying films are trying to also nab digital rights as part of their package, which limits sales companies and film-makers being able to make more money by selling on those VoD rights to another party.

In Locarno, some distributors called for European regulation - broadcasters might have to meet quotas to show a certain number of non-Hollywood films per week (and maybe have at least one in primetime, not in some 3am timeslot ghetto).

But I don’t think quotas are an easy answer. By the time regulations would be decided and enacted, audiences for arthouse film on TV might be long gone. Already over are the days when a teenager knew there was going to be a classic film on at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and become accustomed to tuning in each week.

That’s not how films on TV work any more and audience development needs to be done before broadcasters accept they need to show more non-Hollywood films. Of course, I don’t think film-makers and distributors can change audience habits on their own; broadcasters need to take responsibility for that too, by protecting film slots and promoting them like crazy.

The small screen needs to remain an important platform for films: both for business reasons and film literacy.

The dark arts

My highlight of Rotterdam 2015 was Jeppe Ronde’s Bridgend, a carefully crafted, sensitive work that you won’t believe is a feature debut (Ronde is a documentary veteran). [Click here for interview]

The film, which also screened at Goteborg last week, has a moody elegance about it and never becomes sensational despite the troubling subject matter - in the small town of Bridgend, Wales, there were 79 suicides (mostly by teenagers) between 2007 and 2012.

Ronde went back and forth between his home town of Copenhagen and Bridgend for six years to earn the trust of the teenagers and hear their stories first-hand; he even cast some locals in addition to professional actors such as Game Of Thrones’ compelling Hannah Murray.

Ronde is exactly the kind of fresh voice the Danish Film Institute’s New Danish Screen funding scheme is right to back. The film is so accomplished it wouldn’t have been out of place in Cannes or Venice. But somehow the mood fit the grey skies of Rotterdam.