Gallic quota at risk

PARIS — Herve Bourges, president of the French Conseil Superieur de L’Audiovisuel (CSA) — the Gallic equivalent of the FCC — has warned France’s television and film communities that maintaining the country’s tough television quota system will be increasingly difficult.

Speaking to a gathering of top industry execs in Paris on Wednesday, Bourges said that French quotas, which not only insist that networks program 60% European fare and 40% French product, but also that the levels apply to primetime, are coming under growing pressure from Brussels legislators.

Among the European Union member states, France has taken the toughest line on the quota issue in an effort to defend its domestic production industry.

European legislation in the Television Without Frontiers directive calls on broadcasters to program a majority of European product where practicable. France has set the 60% minimum limit. Other countries, such as the U.K., are considerably more flexible.

The French law has put up a virtual barrier to the likes of Ted Turner’s TNT and Cartoon Network, which still don’t have a majority of European programming. However, Bourges and his team now acknowledge that they won’t be able to hold the line much longer.

“The defense of our cultural exception will depend less and less on paper barriers and more and more on active solidarity between producers and broadcasters,” he warned. Privately, CSA insiders believe that they will be unable to maintain the quota rules as satellite broadcasting becomes more and more established.

Bourges’ appeal comes at a time when some television broadcasters are finding it increasingly difficult to get their hands on the local product they are supposed to air. As competition heats up between rival digital platforms Canal Satellite and Television Par Satellite (TPS), both sides are trying to keep as much product as possible out of the hands of the other.

TPS, which is backed by private terrestrial channels TF1, M6, pubcaster France Television, CLT, cabler Lyonnaise des Eaux and France Telecom, has complained that it has found it very difficult to acquire French films for its digital platform.

Part of the problem, according to TPS, is that Canal Plus is tying up rights to prevent them going to a rival pay television service. Some cable channels have also said they are finding local product scarce, as terrestrial networks hang on to lengthy rights.

Bourges noted that “the retention of rights by this or that group makes it more and more difficult to respect quotas.” The implication is that if broadcasters simply cannot meet their quota requirements through no fault of their own, the system will implode.

For the television networks, this might not be such a bad thing. Senior web execs have never been happy about having legislation forced upon them. However, for the production community, the situation would be more risky, with the possibility that investment will decline once networks are no longer bound to screen so much local product.

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