Just as a number of major international film distributors are beginning to seriously question the value of television advertising in the increasingly expensive movie marketing equation, France looks set to overturn its historic ban on advertising films on TV.

"We are the only country in Europe which such a restrictive position" said new French culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon at a press meeting on Thursday July 4. The French advertising ban affects several areas including cinema, publishing, retail and the media. Cinema and publishing will be the first to be overhauled, Aillagon added.

In context, however, Aillagon has little alternative but to address the issue, as France is subject to a legal requirement by the European Commission to provide justification for the ban - by September 7 this year.

Industry debate regarding the ban has been ongoing for some 10 years in France. Independent distributors are understandably opposed to a change in the rules, arguing it would only strengthen the majors' and particularly the US studios' control of the French market - to the detriment of smaller distributors, and more importantly, to French films.

Further complicating matters, the long-running and culturally sensitive issue is coming to a head at a time when the French independent sector is entering dire straits. This is partly due to soaring p&a costs, in combination with a trend for wider releases.

Currently, and as a direct result of the existing TV advertising ban, p&a costs are much lower in France than in most other European countries (a staggering ten times lower than in Germany for high profile releases).