New study highlights imbalance between funding for distribution and production.

A new independent study commissioned by the Notre Europe Jacques Delors Institute think tank, Unifrance Films and Germany’s Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) has added fuel to the ongoing debate about the imbalance between Europe public funding for film production and distribution.

The report’s authors, veteran German distribution expert Josef Wutz and French journalist Valentin Peréz noted in their study on the ¨Dissemination of European Films in the European Union and the International Market¨  that ¨the imbalance between support for production and support for distribution seems to be a hindrance to the easy circulation and optimum success of some film productions.¨

Wutz pointed out in his survey of current developments in the European market that exports of [national European] films to other European countries is ¨somewhat weak¨.

This is inspite of the fact that the EU’s MEDIA Programme has invested the bulk of its multi-year-programme budgets into distribution activities: in the 2007-2013 edition, 55% of the € 755m budget was earmarked for distribution, with 20% going to development and 9% for promotion, 7% for training, and 9% for horizontal actions and pilot projects.

Indeed, the European Commission itself had remarked in its ¨Communication on European Film in the Digital Era¨ issued last May that European public funders spend an average of 69% of their annual budgets on the production of audiovisual works, but only 8.4% on distribution and 3.6% on promotion.

And yet the number of films being produced in the European Union grows year by year: from 1,159 in 2008 to 1,336 in 2011, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory.

This inflation in the number of films produced in Europe each year with a ever smaller number of screens available to show them was one of the issues also criticised at a recent roundtable discussion presenting new (co-)production initiatives supported by Creative Europe.

Based on Wutz’s collation of statistics, Pérez offered four key recommendations to encourage a wider circulation of European films in the European and international markets:

  1. improve the balance between production support and distribution support
  2. support cinema operators and, in turn, regulate cinema programmes to ensure stronger representation o European cinema in Europe
  3. stimulate new distribution methods in view of digital technology, such as VoD platforms as well as calling on public-service television channels to show more European films in their schedules
  4. take into account the cultural contribution made by European cinema to Europe’s image.

However, it appears to be a taboo subject to suggest that perhaps some of the films being produced in the European Union should not be aiming for theatrical release (or be produced in the first place). Moreover, it is not clear whether more funds for distribution - on a national and European level -would be to  the detriment of the production funds or over and above what is currently made available for distribution.

“Unanimous agreement” from EU Member States

The Wutz/Peréz study was unveiled at last week’s German-French Film Rendez-Vous in Leipzig just as the missions of the EU Member States, known collectively as the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), also recommended that the European Commission ¨encourage rebalancing of the public funding of the audiovisual industry towards development, distribution and promotion¨

Giving its ¨unanimous agreement¨ to the draft conclusions on European audiovisual policy in the digital era, COREPER also suggested that ¨the blurring of lines between linear and non-linear audiovisual media raises the question as to whether existing EU legislative provisions remain appropriate¨.

It recommended that the Commission test the impact of new ways of releasing films within the framework of Creative Europe’s MEDIA sub-programme; encourage practices which make the licensing for multi-territory online audiovisual media services easier; and ensure that legislation and public funding schemes allow for innovation and experimentation with release windows such as simultaneous release on different platforms.

Turning to the proposed ¨structured dialogue¨ about film policy in Europe in a future European Film Forum, the COREPER committee noted that its results could be used  for the purpose of the mid-term evaluation of the Creative Europe MEDIA sub-programme with the aim of ¨reshaping the action lines, increasing the complementarity with national support schemes and adapting them to the changing needs of the market.¨

Audiovisual industry - priority sector

Europe’s audiovisual industry has been identified as a ¨priority sector on the European Union’s economic and cultural agenda¨ in a discussion paper drafted for policy debate by the EU’s Italian Presidency for the Education, Youth, Culture & Sports Council meeting in Brussels today (Nov 25).

“An EU growth strategy for the 21st century should not ignore the potential the cultural and creative sectors represent for achieving economic, cultural, social and  environmental goals,” the paper argued, inviting the EU’s Ministers of Culure at Tuesday’s meeting to propose ways that the cultural and creative sectors could become more directly involved in the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy

The Europe 2020 strategy was launched in 2010 to revamp the EU economy in a ¨smart, sustainable and inclusive¨ way and is now undergoing its mid-term review. (ends)