EC Wants To Double Financial Support For Film, TV

The European Commission has proposed to double the financial support destined for Europe’s film and TV industry over the next five years, but seems to be going cold on French demands to tighten TV quotas.

The commission agreed Feb. 8 to earmark 400 million ECUs ($495 million) to fund Media 2, the European Union’s new audiovisual subsidy initiative which is due to run from 1996 to 2000. Media 2 will replace the existing Media program, which expires on Dec. 31 and had a budget of $247 million for its five-year term.

Marcelino Oreja, the new European culture chief, told reporters that the commission had also discussed the Television Without Frontiers directive, but had not reached any decision on how it should be altered.

The directive has been the cause of serious EU bickering in the past few weeks, with France pushing for tougher implementation of quotas requiring Euro TV webs to screen a majority of local programming, while Germany and Britain continue to fight such a move. After the meeting, French commissioner Edith Cresson suggested that France was losing the argument, and that there was no political will for change.

The plans for Media 2 must now be debated by the European Parliament and approved by the Council of Ministers, probably in the second half of this year, before hitting the statute books. Under the blue-print proposed by Oreja, the $495 million will be split between three target areas – $328 million to bolster distribution of Euro film and TV projects, $72 million for training and $95 million for investment in creative development.

Although double the previous level of funding, this is considerably less than originally envisaged in draft proposals circulating in Brussels last fall, which suggested as much as $550 million to support distribution alone.

This three-legged scheme will replace Media’s current 19 separate programs, ranging from funding archives and animation joint ventures to providing script finance, marketing support for indie producers and assistance for exhibitors who screen Euro pix.

The Oreja plan suggests that Media 2 should encourage European distributors to finance local production through pre-buying rights across several territories, and to start planning pan-European marketing at the pre-production stage.

However, the precise form of Media 2 is still far from clear, and there are now increasing fears that unless it is quickly defined, the new structure will not be ready by the time the old one is dismantled. This could leave Europe’s film and TV professionals starved Media cash for part of next year.

The European Commission is trying to wrest control of Media away from the 19 decentralized initiatives, each based in a different city and each determined to cling onto its cash and the little bit of power each has. The commission wants to bring Media 2 more firmly under the management of Brussels bureaucrats, who would put the job of running the distribution, training and development programs out to tender.

Thus, the four existing Media programs which deal with distribution – EVE (videos), EFDO (theatrical), GRECO (TV sales) and Euro Aim (marketing support for producers) – could band together to make a joint bid to manage the new distribution budget.

Alternatively, they could end up competing against one other for the nod. In the meantime, they have been instructed by the commission to start winding themselves down, since they will officially cease to exist at the end of the year.

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