Pay TV giant negotiates five-year finance deal

PARIS — Gallic paybox giant Canal Plus kicked off talks Monday on the French film industry’s $64,000 question: How much cash will the feevee invest in local pics?

In 2008, Canal Plus plowed e173.96 million ($256.6 million), a record, into pre-buying 142 Gallic films, according to figures from French film body CNC.

But Canal Plus’ contract with French industry orgs, which usually runs five years, is now up for renewal.

Across Europe, broadcasters are cutting their buys of movies, both local and foreign.

Signs are, however, that Canal Plus will continue to stand by the French film industry, making by far the biggest commitment of any European broadcaster to national moviemaking.

“Cinema is very important to us and to our customers. Our customers like French cinema,” said Canal Plus Group prexy-CEO Bertrand Meheut.

He added: “We air about 450 films a year. We need to buy at least the same number of films from French producers as we do at the moment.”

The French paybox is obliged to invest 12% of annual revenues in French or other-European films and 9% on Gallic films shot in French.

Pre-buys include French mini-major EuropaCorp’s “Taken,” a sleeper hit at the U.S. box office, and French secret-agent spoof “O.S.S. 117: Lost in Rio,” a local B.O. hit.

In 2008, Canal Plus pre-bought 64% of all French-originated films.

“We’re happy to have these obligations to support French cinema,” said Manuel Alduy, Canal Plus head of cinema.

Fulfilling obligations is no slam dunk, Alduy said, given market trends — theatrical release gluts; hiked print runs on big pics; and the polarization of French production between higher-bracket movies and low-budget fare.

But changing the number of films Canal Plus supports “wouldn’t be politically correct,” said Meheut.

Negotiations can’t drag on: Canal Plus’ current contract lapses at the end of the year.

Hortense de Labriffe, general secretary of the Assn. of Independent Producers, declined to comment on the negotiations with Canal Plus.

French producers and Gaul’s cultural establishment at large would be devastated by any substantial change, however unlikely, to Canal Plus’ French film pre-buys.

“You can make a film without (French broadcasters) TF1, France Televisions or M6, but not without Canal Plus,” said producer Djamel Bensalah (“Neuilly sa mere”).

“In many aspects, Canal Plus has become a sort of CNC for the European film industry,” Bensalah said. “It’s played a crucial role cultivating diversity and preserving the cultural exception on a worldwide scale.”

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