Open Access Drives New Media Program Initiatives

While much coverage of the European Union’s Media Program focuses on its extensive contribution to European film production, its investment in the audiovisual sector extends far past a project’s final cut. Other initiatives within the program have been built to aid distribution and promotion of films across the continent — keeping pace, too, with the rapid evolution of digital distribution models.

As Media kicked off its 25th-anniversary celebrations at the Berlinale in February, three notable projects funded by the online distribution scheme were showcased. From the U.K., the Curzon Home Cinema VOD platform — an outcrop of the country’s Curzon arthouse theater chain — was celebrated for its advances in multiplatform release strategies: In 2015, more than 60 European films were granted day-and-date releases in cinemas and on VOD via the platform; this year, Curzon Home Cinema’s reach is being extended to over 6.5 million customers.

The Rotterdam Film Festival’s IFFR Live project, meanwhile, was rewarded for taking new European films beyond the relatively rarefied remit of the festival theater. Selected festival premieres were simultaneously screened in over 60 theaters across Europe, as well as on multiple VOD platforms; through live streaming and social media, meanwhile, audiences could participate remote in post-screening Q&A sessions.

Finally, French-based venture Walk This Way sees digital distributor Under the Milky Way and marketing experts The Film Agency joining forces to coordinate the cross-European VOD releases of a diverse slate of European films, also developing sales-generating promotional campaigns.

Such Media-enabled projects are typical of the program’s drive to evolve and expand distribution and exhibition opportunities for European cinema in a market that is in dramatic flux — as the much-debated advent of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy seeks to dissolve transnational barriers that might obstruct or delay audience access to a more diverse selection of the continent’s cinema. Some filmmakers and distributors have voiced concerns that the opening of the market in this manner might make it harder for individual productions to surface amid an ever-growing sea of content, however.

Creative Europe explains that its distribution support is directed in three ways. Selective support encourages theatrical distributors to invest in the promotion of non-national European productions that could pose a commercial challenge to them if supported only by the market forces — thus ensuring a more diverse array of viewing options for European audiences, and wider exposure for the films themselves. Groups of distributors (numbering seven or more) may apply for grants ranging between $3,200 and $172,000, depending on the intended screen count.

The selective initiative’s objectives, as dictated by the program’s guidelines, include not only the marketing, branding, distribution and exhibition as European productions, but also seek to ready such works for international sales — covering such processes as subtitling, dubbing and audio-description. Furthermore, the scheme fosters expanded links between the production and distribution sectors.

Automatic support, on the other hand, is a subsidy for distributors based on national theater admissions for non-national European films. The potential fund generated must then be reinvested in European film co-production, distribution rights for non-national films, as well as further release costs for such films including prints, dubbing, subtitling and publicity. Furthermore, support is offered to sales agents, also involving the generation of a potential fund, for reinvestment in non-national European films.

Last year, Media’s automatic support plan saw its 2016 budget cut by $1.1 million to $22.7 million. Its selective initiative, on the other hand, was allocated a $1.1 million year-on-year boost to $10.3 million — 25% of which is allocated to productions budgeted below $3.5 million. (Films from major producing countries France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the U.K. are eligible only if budgeted below $11.5 million.)

Recent prominent festival premieres to have benefited from Media’s distribution plans include Hungarian Oscar winner “Son of Saul,” Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan,” Jaco van Dormael’s Golden Globe-nominated religious satire “The Brand New Testament,” Joachim Trier’s U.S.-set “Louder Than Bombs,” the single-take German heist thriller “Victoria” and Miguel Gomes’ ambitious storytelling triptych “Arabian Nights.”

The program’s outlook isn’t limited to theatrical distribution, however. Media’s online distribution support scheme covers the marketing and release of European productions across video-on-demand services, as well as testing new distribution models. Funding is allocated for three course of action: Supporting European VOD services with an eye to increasing the presence and profile of European titles on their platforms; developing and delivering digital online-ready packages for European productions, enabling them to be distributed via VOD; and encouraging simultaneous multi-platform releases of European productions across at least three countries participating in the Media sub-program, covering such avenues as theatrical, festivals, television, DVD and VOD.

Media — facing a vastly different industry landscape in its 25th year than the one it launched in — seems to be changing with the times.

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