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Producers, B’Casters Agree: French Quota Confab A Dud

When French broadcasters and their adversaries, indie producers, announced a joint press conference during MIP to denounce government tv regulations, it was hailed as an historic event akin to U.S. nets and studios jointly denouncing finsyn.

And it was. For the first time in recent memory, the French broadcast industry and its observers agreed on a single point: It was the worst press conference they had ever attended.

Journalists had expected industry reps to unveil a detailed platform signed by four privately owned broadcasters – TF-1, La Cinq, M6 and Canal Plus – and the producers union, USPA.

Press leaks indicated the group would call for a drop in French quotas from 50% to 30%, a loosening of minimum investment requirements in primetime first-run production and the allowance of a second commercial break in films.

Instead, only two of the scheduled participants appeared, and they weren’t talking. Present were Albert Mathieu, Canal Plus’ program director, and Pierre Grimblat, topper of indie producer Hamster.

Among the missing were TF-1 v.p. Etienne Mougeotte and La 5 prez Yves Sabouret. After Mathieu gave a sketchy but emotional explanation of the dire financial state of the French broadcast industry, journalists repeatedly asked Mathieu what he wanted the government to do.

Mathieu persistently dodged the issue.

When the press conference ended, tempers flared. A stunned top exec at M6 said, “I’m mad as hell. We all signed the platform. I don’t understand what’s going on here.”

Producer Alain Moreau, who penned a report calling for changes in the rules, shouted, “This is lamentable. You guys are zero when it comes to communication.”

MIP was abuzz over the sudden refusal to announce what already was unofficially announced. Speculation on the reasons ranged from government pressure to a break in the coalition over how to amend the rules.

While the private sector fumbled, pubcasting czar Herve Bourges explained to a packed audience at the Carlton Hotel that he favored changing the quotas, but not much more. Instead, Bourges, the president of Antenne-2 and FR-3, called for an industrywide conference on the future of French broadcasting.

At stake is the future of co-productions and the fates of the local production industry and Yank program salesmen.

The French government says it must impose new rules because of the European Community broadcast directive that goes into effect this October. While the directive forbids basing quotas on a program’s origin, it allows protective measures in the name of safeguarding a country’s language.

Beginning in September, a new law will force broadcasters to invest in programs that are shot in French from an original French script. Currently, certain co-prods qualify as French – even if they’re shot in English.

Beginning in January, 60% of the shows aired between 6 and 11 p.m. must be of European origin, and half of those must be shot in French.

Producers say such a rule will force them to make cheaper programs, like gameshows, talkshows and variety shows. And they say only programs shot in English can pick up enough foreign revenues and co-prod coin to cover deficits from low broadcast license fees.

The primetime quotas not only will hurt U.S. distribs, they will severely handicap struggling webs like La Cinq and M6.

M6 topper Jean Drucker told the press at Cannes that such a rule would strangle the channel to death.

Also under debate is which programs fall under the quota requirement. French rules say they are theatrical films, fiction, scripted docus and animation. European regs, however, include game and variety shows.

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