In an open letter, leading organisations representing European cinema exhibitors warn ministers that attempts by the European Commission threaten the future of theatrical exhibition.
The Union Internationale des Cinémas (UNIC), the Confédération Internationale des Cinémas d’Art et d’Essai (CICAE) and the Europa Cinemas network have issued an open letter to relevant ministers in EU member states, warning that attempts by the European Commission (EC) to influence film release schedules threaten the future of the European film industry.
Predominantly focused on EC’s attempts to interfere with the “media chronology” (the practice of releasing films on different platform according to consumer preferences), the letter follows up a previous letter from the organisations that strongly criticised a new pilot support scheme set up by the MEDIA Programme, which encouraged distributors and international sales agents to experiment with day-and-date releases.
Jan Runge [pictured], CEO of UNIC, commented: “We want to raise awareness of the fact that EU policy makers are increasingly promoting their personal views on when, where and how the film sector ‘should’ release its titles. These views differ significantly from those of a majority of film and cinema professionals in Europe. They are not based on evidence, lack a sound understanding of media economics and put in question the subsidiarity principle in the field of culture. We believe that the time has come for national governments as well as all film industry organisations to carefully monitor EU film-initiatives to ensure that we can all continue to support film culture and cinemas in the future.”
He continued: “European cinema exhibitors wholeheartedly support EU attempts to foster the circulation of European works across borders. We also share the view that VOD should eventually become an important market for European films. Yet, restraining those that invest most into film and cinemas cannot be the answer to overcoming the challenges of the sector. Cinemas are key to the successful exploitation of films on all platforms and should therefore be granted the right to exploit titles exclusively at the beginning of the release schedule.”
The European institutions are currently rethinking their approach to promoting the well-being of the European film and cinema sector, in areas such as copyright, digital distribution and competition policy.
PROTECTION AND PROMOTION OF EUROPEAN CINEMAS
We would like to draw your attention to our shared concerns regarding certain European policy developments in relation to film and cinema exhibition. In the light of these, we invite you to join us in our efforts to protect the experience of hundreds of millions of cinema-goers and the well-being of thousands of cinemas across Europe.
The European Union currently provides direct support to the cinema exhibition sector through the MEDIA programme. Such support and in particular that of Europa Cinemas is highly appreciated by European cinema professionals. Given current negotiations of the future EU budget we would like to underline how essential the MEDIA programme is to safeguarding cultural diversity and to enabling the circulation of European works across borders.
Alongside this, it has been an equally important goal of Brussels to enable European Member States to support their film sectors in the most flexible way possible. We believe that this makes sense as national and regional film agencies continue to provide around 90 per cent of public support available for film and cinemas in Europe.
However, in recent months European policy-makers made several public statements which threaten essential film finance and distribution practices in the film industry. Some voices in the European Commission call into question both the future of theatrical exhibition and the freedom of Member States to decide how to support film and cinemas.
For example, at a round-table with film industry professionals on 9 October 2012, Commissioner Neelie Kroes publicly promoted the concept of simultaneous film releases in cinemas and on VOD. The Commissioner also suggested that national film agencies adapt their funding practices to fall into line with her vision of a digital single market. These ideas received a cool reception on the day. Many professionals present underlined the importance of the media chronology to raising film finance and to safeguarding cultural diversity. They also explained that the European film sector is fragmented primarily due to cultural and linguistic differences across Europe.
Nevertheless, following the meeting Commissioner Kroes as well as Commissioner Vassiliou issued a public memo which claimed that the participants of the round-table had embraced the Commissioner’s ideas.
Another example is a new funding scheme, launched by the MEDIA Programme and based on an initiative of the European Parliament, which encourages film companies to launch works on VOD before showing them in cinemas. This new scheme has received much criticism from the film industry as it does not take into consideration that such experiment can damage the cultural as well as the economic value of cinema exhibition. It disregards the fact that films are first and foremost made to be seen on the big screen and that an exclusive exploitation in cinemas at the beginning of the release schedule significantly benefits a film’s performance in subsequent version markets, including VOD. It is our great concern that, should this initiative be imitated elsewhere, it could slowly undermine the significant role that cinemas play in promoting European film culture. More importantly, the criticism of release windows disregards the fact that these are essential to the current financing of European film production and distribution.
Increasing involvement on behalf of the European Commission in this particular field goes against the principle that release strategies should be decided upon first and foremost by the film industry and, in some cases, by national policy makers, based on cultural policy rationales.
While there is no sound evidence which supports the Commission’s position on simultaneous releases, there is a clear danger that uninformed views on “how films in Europe should be released” will have an effect on important policy dossiers that are currently negotiated in Brussels (the Cinema Communication, the forthcoming Council Recommendation from DG EAC, the future focus of Creative Europe, etc.).
All of the signatories to this letter will of course continue to work closely with the European Commission to ensure that its future policy on film is as sensible and grounded as possible. However we would also ask that you and your ministry carefully monitor current policy developments in Brussels in this respect, and seek reassurance that they will truly benefit European film and cinemas.
As we enter the digital age for the industry, there is no better time to reconfirm a shared commitment to a diverse European cinema sector. Cinema theatres, and the right of the industry to utilise a period of theatrical exclusivity, are vital to the well-being of film and cinemas in Europe.
Ad J. Weststrate
President, Union Internationale des Cinémas/ International Union of Cinemas
Dr. Detlef Roßmann
Président, Confédération Internationale des Cinémas d’Art et d’Essai
Prof. Ian Christie
President, Europa Cinemas