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New French prez earns biz scruitiny

Socialist Hollande's stances on piracy, TV ads examined

PARIS — While France celebrates the election of Francois Hollande, the entertainment sector is cautiously assessing the new Socialist president’s stance on several issues that bear directly on the biz, including anti-piracy law, tax incentives, the ad ban on pubcaster France Televisions, and the length of theatrical windows.

Outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy had been criticized for banning advertisements on the pubcaster (Hollande says he’ll allow them during certain periods) and for his political interference in France’s media (which earned him comparisons with Silvio Berlusconi), but he was lauded for his stance against piracy, highlighted by the creation of a set of laws to protect intellectual property.

Though few filmmakers and producers dared to endorse the right-leaning Sarkozy — Gerard Depardieu and Claude Lelouch were the highest-profile industryites to back him — many insiders acknowledge his proactive stance on film-related matters.

“On copyright protection, I give Sarkozy an A,” says Pascal Rogard, managing director of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers.

Hollande, meanwhile, created discord when he declared he would change France’s tough anti-piracy laws without specifying what he would replace them with. The laws are administered by Hadopi, a government body that protects intellectual property on the Internet and reports users who download illegal content.

Whereas Hadopi targets mostly peer-to-peer piracy, Hollande said he would aim to punish those who provide search engines that direct users to sites which distribute illegal content, as well as companies that advertise on illegal websites, according to Hollande’s media expert Aurelie Filipetti.

Hollande has told French guilds, industryites, Web orgs and European leaders that he will initiate discussions this summer to draft a new anti-piracy law.

“I will not consider Hollande’s cultural policy as long as he will not say loud and clear that illegally downloading someone’s work is as serious as stealing drugs from a pharmacy or stealing food from a shop,” declares Vincent Maraval, international sales prexy at Wild Bunch.

As for the French film financing system, and the budget allocation for cultural spending, little change is expected.

“Hollande has said his government will support sectors that have strong growth potential, and the film, TV and post-production industry is one of them,” says Olivier Rene Veillon, managing director of Ile de France Film Commission.

Another hot topic for the biz is the nation’s government-regulated timeframe for a film to make its way through various platforms, from theatrical release to DVD, (4 months), pay TV (10 months), free to air (22 months), subscription VOD (36 months) and free VOD (48 months).

Exhibitors, French free-to-air and pay TV channels, which pre-buy films, have been lobbying to maintain existing windows to retain exclusivity on pics they acquire, while artists and producers guilds have been pushing to shorten these windows for certain films, including pics that haven’t been pre-bought by free-to-air TV.

Sarkozy faced criticism (and an exhibitors’ strike) when he reduced the pay VOD and DVD window from seven to four months. Hollande says he shares the guilds’ frustration over release windows, but his policy remains unclear.

Other items on the new president’s political agenda include forcing digital players (including DTT channels and Web platforms) to inject coin into French production, and preventing TV groups from holding a monopoly on content.

A better picture of the full extent of the new government’s reforms will come when Hollande appoints his ministers at the end of the month, along with the election of Parliament deputies.

“(The deputies are) the ones who discuss anything that has to do with the film industry,” says Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France Commission.

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