European Parliament hearings for new Commisioners,
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But attendees will be seeking clarification on the European Commission’s polemical Digital Single Market drive

As Netflix and Amazon dominate 2016 Sundance Fest deal headlines, the European Union is set to focus at Berlin on Euro movie/TV show promotion in a digital age in a Creative Europe Media Day dominated inevitably by the Commission’s Digital Single Market push to broaden access to films and shows across Europe.

Announced May 6 on the cusp of the Cannes Festival, the DSM was met with full-frontal opposition by a world’s movie-TV content industry that viewed it as a threat to territory-by-territory licensing of movies and TV shows. That would come via the DSM’s drive for cross-border access, whereby people in the E.U. would be free to buy content situated on other countries’ digital platforms.

Eight months later, the jury is out on the exact impact the European Commission’s Digital Single Market could have on the established industry. According to one interpretation, that rests on two key initiatives: “Portability” draft regulation, which allows European to travel in the E.U. and still access home-territory-bought online content; possible antitrust practice rulings levied against European pay TV operators’ licensing deals with Hollywood studios.

Announced Dec. 9, portability draft regs allow E.U. residents to temporarily access digital content or services they bought in their home country when traveling abroad.

Portability regs need far more robust definitions, it critics say, fearing they are the thin end of the wedge. How temporary is temporary? Portability regs have gone through a first working group technical committee run by E.U. member states Council of Ministers and now faces another in February, which gives industry orgs a chance at insisting on their provisions being tightened.

European Commission sub-judice hearings, involving six Hollywood and Sky UK, took place behind closed doors Jan.18-20 in Brussels. It might take years for a final ruling.

Running Feb. 15, the Creative Europe Media Day looks set to have a more practical public focus, homing in on best practices and strategies in innovation and promotion of European film and TV in a digital age. Debates about promotion unspool at the 2016 Berlin European Film Forum, taking place Feb. 15 in the afternoon, which will segue into festivities celebrating the E.U. Creative Europe Media Program’s 25th anniversary.

Public events kick off with the presentation of innovative Media Program-supported digital projects, plus others that have furthered European cultural and social diversity. Afternoon panels are accompanied by a presentation of latest European movie facts and figures from Martin Kanzler at the European Audiovisual Observatory, whose studies are proving invaluable guides to European industry results. Kanzler’s analysis will be accompanied by discussions – speakers still to be announced – on such natural and laudable aims as promoting European works and raising their online profile in a digital age.

Celebrations details have still to be announced. But it would be undeniable that the E.U. Media Program, officially launched 1991 after a pilot phase, can boast significant achievements. Europe’s film support system still turns, as in 1991, around the national support systems of its 28 E.U. member states, mixing direct (subsidies) and indirect (tax breaks, regulated TV investment) incentive mechanisms. But via its industry support lines, the Media Program has at least introduced the virtues of film development and the importance of distribution in a still production-financing focused European industry. Media Program distribution support has given Europe’s art-house industry large competitive advantages over outside art-film competitors.

The real heat at the Creative Europe Media Day may, however, lie elsewhere.

The day of exchange and celebrations will take place in the presence of Gunther Oettinger (pictured), the European Commissioner in charge of the Digital Economy and Society, who signaled May 17 at the Cannes Festival that certain sectors of “sensitivity” such as movies and TV, could be exempted from copyright provisions such as total cross-border access informing the Commission’s plans for a Digital Single Market.

One interpretation is that that the DSM politics are locked:  the Commission still aims to introduce cross-border access, either through the back-door of lax portability legislation, which could be on the statute books by year-end, or by simply standing back while EC antitrust competition directorate dismantle exclusive licensing agreements between Hollywood’s majors and pay TV operators, one of the backbones of Europe’s film/TV industry.

But there’s another: That the European Commission took on board fairly quickly this spring – hence Oettinger’s words at Cannes – that it would never be able to run roughshod over Europe’s film and TV industries forcing through its Council of Ministers proposals for full border access which in the opinions of some governments – think France – would do irreparable damage to European film and TV financing. If Oettinger speaks at Berlin, his words may give some clues at which way the wind lies and what’s coming down the pipeline from Brussels in a debate that, along with market forces in a digital age, looks set to shape the future of the continent’s film and TV content industries.

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