While rivals saluted TF1 yesterday for its grand ambitions with Miramax welcoming a new competitor on the local theatrical distribution scene, there was also unease at the prospect of ever more films cluttering up French cinemas because of television's encroaching influence over cinema. Some even suggested that French regulators should have their own say.
In a pattern that has been repeated worldwide, a major television player has worked its way up the film distribution foodchain and put itself in a position of influence over which kinds of films get the greenlight, and how much rival distributors need to fork out in order to compete. France has already seen how broadcasters such as Canal Plus and M6 (which owns theatrical outfit SND) have raised the price bar for independent features in their quest to keep their channels brimming with television friendly films.
Yesterday's instant reactions from French distributors, sales agents and producers were unsurprisingly mixed. "All I can say is good luck" said Thierry Desmichelle, who heads up SND. "I think it is a very shrewd, ambitious move. TF1's determination to branch out into distribution did not surprise me at all. I kind of expected it. I don't fear the arrival of a new competitor : A market only lives when it moves."
"It is a good thing for TF1" chimed in Philippe Bony, head of cinema for TFI's affiliated pay-TV network TPS. "As far as TPS is concerned, it will not make much of a difference : we already had access to second runs of some Miramax titles sold through Buena Vista, and we also acquired pay -TV rights from Bac Films."
On the more sceptical side, there were some knee-jerk concerns over the arrival of a deep-pocketed giant. Moreover, independents once relied on TF1 as one of its key local buyers and now it too is releasing films in competition.
"It is anti-competitive and dangerous and a further example of the hegemony that the TV industry seeks to have over the film industry," said Marin Karmitz, CEO of MK2. "TF1 is not interested in quality films, but is exclusively focused on the kind of films that will play well in prime time. This alliance reinforces that."
"Of course it is the birth of a new juggernaut, but this is not the only problem," commented independent distributor and producer Fabienne Vonnier of Pyramide. TF1 will only be openly doing what Canal Plus has done through Bac Films for five years, provide Miramax with access to the lucrative TV rights revenues. This joint venture differs from the Gaumont/Buena Vista-- and UGC/Fox or UIP distribution partnerships, because TF1 is a broadcaster.
"In the past few years, broadcasters have branched out in almost all areas of the film industry, first into the foreign sales sector and now distribution. We have seen the dangerous results of Canal Plus' involvement in the latter sector : they have raked up US independent titles which used to be vital to the French independent distributors, and prices have skyrocketed to ridiculous heights."
"To sign up with Miramax you had to be either a sucker or a broadcaster - well, Miramax found its broadcaster." quipped one French sales agent who preferred to remain anonymous. He also speculated that Luc Besson and Pierre-Ange Le Pogam's Europa Corp, were touted as likely candidates to handle Miramax films in France, but may have declined the offer - something Miramax's Rick Sands vehemently denied.