MEDIA 2007 to launch in Berlin

European body will have $979 million to spend

The European Union launched Media 2007, the latest version of its multimillion-dollar audiovisual subsidies program, at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday.

Media’s fourth incarnation since its inception in 1991 is worth e755 million ($979 million) over seven years.

The program’s influence within the European film industry is manifest at the Berlin fest: 17 Media-backed films, including opening- and closing-night pics “La Vie en rose” and “Angel,” respectively, are in the Official Selection.

The Berlinale Talent Campus for budding directors and European Film Promotion’s Shooting Stars spotlighting young thesps receive Media money.

All the Euro distribs perusing the slates on offer at the EFM will eventually tap Media distribution funds to help finance the release of any non-national, Euro acquisitions they make.

“The Media program is vital to many of the distributors we deal with,” said Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-head of Paris-based sales company Films Distribution.

But when Europe’s film industry toast Media’s latest edition at a reception in Berlin on Sunday night, some present may question whether the festivities are premature.

Media was originally set up to help Europe’s audiovisual industry compete against a flood of non-Euro product following the liberalization of the TV markets in the 1980s, as well as to combat falling cinema audiences, especially for Euro fare.

Today Media faces another set of challenges linked to the European Union’s enlargement to 27 states and the dawn of a digital age.

There are concerns that the program does not have the finances to do so.

Media 2007’s budget of $979 million is significantly lower than the $1.36 billion requested by the Information Society and Media Commission, which oversees the program.

And this year promises to be a particularly lean one across the EU due to extra costs related to the union’s enlargement from 25 to 27 states on Jan. 1.

“We didn’t get the money, and it’s not clear whether new initiatives can be delivered with the scope originally set out,” says one insider.

Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding is putting a brave face on the situation.

“It’s important now to work with the budget that we’ve got… I am convinced that there is a critical mass in Media 2007 that will enable us to reach our targets,” said the commissioner.

“Although 2007 may be more difficult, the budget will increase as the program builds momentum, starting with $97 million and culminating with $139 million,” she added.

Despite the lower budget, Reding is pushing on with ambitious plans to put digitization at the heart of the program.

“Digitization is one of our main priorities under Media 2007. New integrated strategies have to be developed to match the market challenges.”

Media is about to launch its first subsidies for video-on-demand, she revealed.

“The main objective will be to support the creation and exploitation of catalogs of European audiovisual works,” Reding explained.

Other innovations include the inclusion of the i2i program, covering the costs incurred by SMEs when accessing private finance, into the main body of Media.

Enticing private finance into the audiovisual sector is another of Reding’s priorities.

Some of Media’s traditional recipients are wondering what the program’s new commitments will mean for them.

The 2008 budget for training, for example, has been slashed by some 30% against 2007 levels.

Training orgs such as the producer-focused EAVE and screenwriting lab North by Northwest — currently preparing their 2008 funding applications ahead of a March 9 deadline — have no idea whether their funding will be continued.

“Nothing is very clear at the moment. We can’t tell whether they will cut funding to one or two programs outright or make small cuts all round,” said EAVE chief exec Alan Fountain.

A consortium of Euro training orgs will make an announcement in Berlin on Monday voicing their concerns.

Elsewhere, planned subsidies to encourage the transnational distribution of Euro titles on VHS/DVD were cancelled at the 11th hour last December due to the 2007 budget squeeze.

The EFP, meanwhile, had its 2007 Media funding cut to $846,300 and may not attend the AFM and Buenos Aires Film Festival as a result.

Reding remains resolutely upbeat about Media 2007.

“I am a believer in aiming high — we need to set ourselves ambitious targets and shape our policies to them!” she declared.

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