EC reveals AV plans

$355 mil scheme targets film market share, TV

BRUSSELS — The European Commission has spelled out proposals for boosting Europe’s audiovisual industry in the 21st century and helping it expand its global market share.

At its weekly meeting Wednesday, the executive branch of the European Union formally unveiled a package worth 350 millions euros ($355 million) to help spur the international distribution of European movies, both inside the EU and across the world.

The money is coming from the Media Plus funding program set up by Culture Commissioner Viviane Reding as a follow-up to the Media I and II initiatives. Media Plus will cover 2001-05.

Reding said European films should “win over European audiences and the rest of the world.”

The main emphasis of the program will be development, with about $302 million allocated to distribution, development and marketing of films, and $50.3 million going to training.

The distribution side of Media Plus will provide financial assistance in the form of a “reimbursable advance for distributors of European works,” a plan designed to encourage cinema networking, and to boost investment in dubbing and subtitling, and multilingual productions.

There also will be a system of automatic financial support to distributors that will be determined by the number of seats sold for nondomestic European films. The commission will channel aid toward the production of soundtracks and toward encouraging cinemas to screen more Euro pics for a longer period of time. As with earlier incarnations of the Media program, the commission will provide up to 50% of funding for project costs.

There also will be “automatic” support for the distribution of European films on video and DVD, and financial aid to help TV broadcasters from different territories cooperate more.

On the promotion side, Media Plus aims to increase the presence of European professionals “in the main professional markets and festivals.”

The production loans of up to 50% of costs will be available to finance the development of individual projects that are ‘likely to appeal to European and international audiences.’

Media Plus funds also may become open to countries that are applying for EU membership.

On the regulatory side, the commission has published a five-year strategy designed to make sure regulations do not become obsolete because of rapid technological change.

The commission committed itself to presenting proposals in 2000 for a new legal framework for the film industry that finally (it hopes) will settle the vexing question of how to define a European work. It will also revise its controversial “Television Without Frontiers” directive, and decide whether there is a need for more sympathetic rules on state subsidies for TV and cinema production.

The commission said it would try to leave most of the regulation of the audiovisual industry to the individual member states.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the commission indicated that the audiovisual industry in Europe employed over 1 million people and had the potential to create 300,000 more jobs by 2005. It said that with the advent of digital technology, there would be more than 1,000 television channels on air in Europe in 2000, and that with the spread of the Internet, supply would increase even further.

However, the commission added that while the number of movies produced and distributed in Europe is on the rise, the Euro film biz is not “adequately prepared to meet the challenges of the digital revolution.” It claimed that European films are suffering especially because of their failure to win international marketing and distribution, resulting in underinvestment, poor profitability and an ever-diminishing investment capacity.

The commission’s proposals must be considered by the European Parliament before they can be adopted by the Council of Ministers.

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