His much-anticipated appearance at Tallinn’s European Film Forum may have been billed as a “fireside chat,” but you could feel a distinct chill in the air as Estonian politician and European Commission vice president Andrus Ansip faced an audience of industry execs on Thursday. He had arrived to discuss the ins and outs in the EC’s Digital Single Market — already the source of fierce debate at the festival — but it was immediately clear that the discussion on his part would be more of a defence, attempting to assuage film-biz fears that breaking down borders in online distribution would not detrimentally affect the production or promotion of European film.
Ansip’s speech was considered, practiced and unruffled by questions to which he didn’t have — or wouldn’t give — the answer. He repeatedly underlined what he claimed what a misunderstanding by many industry members of the EC’s intentions: Granting uniform online access to films across the European Union’s 28 territories does not, he insisted, mean that territoriality in film production and licensing will cease. “I never promoted the idea of pan-European licenses, and the principle of territoriality will stay,” he said, adding that windowing — the country-determined release schedules of films in theaters and to home-viewing markets — would also be protected. “We don’t want a revolution,” he continued.
Audience members seemed unconvinced, with some directly asking how Ansip could claim to oppose territorial exclusivity in the digital market while standing up for territoriality and windowing in the film business — a model that would appear to grant audiences and distributors conflicting degrees of control, though one he described at several points as a “win-win situation.” His answer was evasive, while he was equally non-committal on the question of how (and how much) filmmakers would be paid by region-free streaming services: “It’s too early to say what measures we might use,” he said to a less patient-sounding crowd. With consultations on the DSM closing next month, “too early” is surely not a line the European Commission can use for much longer.