Europe's film sales companies are to get a cash boost under a new scheme to include them in the distribution section of the European Union's next MEDIA Programme.

Under MEDIA Plus, the new five-year support system which replaces MEDIA II from January 2001, distribution will be allocated $98.2m (euro100m) and film sellers a further $4.9m (euro5m).

MEDIA boss Jacques Delmoly said that the sellers system will be based on the pilot programme launched last year under MEDIA II: 'It is difficult for European distributors to always work together, sales agents add value by helping here.' Delmoly said that cash will be paid out according to sales company performance, possibly measured in terms of the number of licensing deals signed or by reference to box office returns for films sold.

The proposal appeared to meet with the approval of distributors and sellers assembled during the Berlin film festival. But some suggested that the incentive is too small, others that the system should be skewed to favour smallest outfits, and still others that TV broadcasters should be given an incentive to buy more European films.

Jacques Le Glou, chairman of French seller Mercure Distribution, was greeted with applause when he said that European sellers are facing a 'real emergency'. Le Glou said that sellers face a fatal combination of increasing volume of films, lower numbers of films being bought and rising costs.

Paulo Branco, a Portuguese producer, distributor and exhibitor, said the sales support cash should go to a wide number of small companies. 'Europe needs to help everyone, not just four or five films which are often co-produced with the US majors,' he said.

In a week when bi-lateral co-production treaties and the proposed new German-French film academy stressed the need to improve intra-European distribution, Delmoly outlined four other pro-distribution changes that will be introduced with MEDIA Plus. Selective support will be focused on expanding the network of European distributors. Automatic aid will no longer have to be reinvested in the production sector and will be limited in its use to subsidising the acquisition of non-national European films and to the costs of editing. Aid for exhibitors will be administered along lines very similar to cash for distributors. And MEDIA Plus will open a new fund for the creation of pan-European music and effects tracks. With the pan-regional coding of DVDs the new measure is intended to improve economies of scale and reduce the cost of dubbing.

Delmoly added that if the new sellers and soundtracks schemes are added to the pure distribution subsidy, total distribution incentives rise from $106.6m (euro108m) over the five years of MEDIA II to $123.3m (euro125m) under MEDIA Plus.