PARIS For indie producers in France, the anger and anxiety that has been percolating all year has reached a boiling point.
Since President Nicolas Sarkozy’s shocking January announcement that advertising on state-run France Televisions networks would be eliminated by 2012, concerns have mounted for many that the government simply cannot or will not make good on its promises to offset the subsequent revenue losses from such an action.
According to the Union for Independent Producers (SPI), approximately 350 shingles in France get the majority of their work through the pubcaster.
Market researcher Screen Digest estimates France Televisions will lose at least $715 million, the bulk, in ad revenues in 2009 if the government goes ahead with its post-8 p.m. ban as of January.
By the government’s own reckoning, by 2013, France Televisions will need $1.03 billion a year to make up for lost ad revenue, as well as needing an additional $318 million annually to help support the country’s TV content producers.
For many, the president’s June 25 response to a government-appointed commission’s recommendations on how best to compensate France Televisions has not offered much comfort.
To name but one big issue, the legality of a proposed tax on French ISP as well as fixed and mobile telephone operators has already been questioned by the European Commission — and also by the French industries directly affected, which intend to fight such a tax at both national and EU levels, if necessary.
Sarkozy also opposes any rise in annual TV licensing fees, which many independent producers support.
SPI president Emmanuel Priou, a senior producer at French shingle Bonne Pioche, (“March of the Penguins”) says for France Televisions, “commissioning is now very difficult, and it will be worse in September.”
“Smaller production companies doing two or three projects a year could go under very soon,” he says. “And they’re the ones providing the most diversity and creativity.”
With an eye to the fall season, France Televisions toppers are mostly tightlipped about any changes in commissioning policies.
“All I’m willing to say at present is that the situation is quite complicated, and we have seen some very strange changes recently,” says Fabrice Puchault, secretary general of the France 2 network.
Nicolas Traube — topper at Pampa Production (“War and Peace, “Coco Chanel”) and a member of the government commission — is skeptical about the monetary figures being bandied about by all sides concerning deficits and offsets.
“It’s difficult to know whom to trust while a crisis is going on,” he says.
But he sees no reason for producers to limit their longer-term concerns to pubcasters.
“There is also a crisis in most of the main networks,” Traube says. “TF1 is the best example. It is still losing audience share and (core channel) revenues, especially to some of the upstart DTT networks in the past few years.”
But by and large, that these new nets still won’t have the money to commission much new French drama for the foreseeable future.
Priou despairs of Sarkozy’s apparent willingness to risk “killing a system in a few months that took 50 years to build” with regard to PSB as a whole in France.
Traube, however, is less convinced there is that much method to some of his actions.
“I simply don’t know why Sarkozy does certain things. There was already a crisis in certain areas of the public networks. But why upset the entire system?”
For their part, private network toppers have not been shy to voice their own beefs about some state proposals for helping to balance France Televisions’ books, not least of all one for $127 million in new taxes on the commercial nets.
“If Sarkozy is only doing this to help his friends in the media,” Traube says, voicing suspicions that the president is favoring pals, “he could have been a lot more clever about it.”