Locarno: Canada’s Simard Calls For Internet Service Provider Levy To Finance Content

Europe’s industry debates its future as digital, global revolutions kick in

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Corutesy of Locarno Film Festival

LOCARNO – Locarno’s StepIn, the biggest discussion forum at August’s biggest European film event, launched a call for a Internet Service Provider tax via Monique Simard, CEO of Quebec’s Sodec cultural industry investment fund, who delivered a keynote urging Europe’s film industry “to try to find new sources of financing.”

Simard’s suggestion, as other recommendations, won mostly warm applause from an industry audience made up mostly of sales, distribution and exhibition execs from Europe – though exhibitors would not have agreed wit Simard’s description of window release chronology as “stupid.”

“Most culture is now consumed through Internet Service Providers,” Simard argued in her keynote. “Internet Service Providers have to make a contribution to finance content. I believe that very strongly.”

In some of Europe’s most highly regulated markets, in terms of film financing at least, some Internet Service Providers already finance content: Orange in France; Spain’s Telefonica.Some analysts claim all telecoms will inevitably drive into content as a calling card for larger quad-play offers. A prime telecom content money-spender, however, as in seen in the case of the U.K.’s BT, is not movies but sport.

“A lot of people say [ISP movie funding] is a utopia, it will never happen in the U.S. I don’t know,” Simard recognised in her keynote. “But I remember a Quebec commission. A very conservative member said: ‘Internet Providers should be made to contribute to a fund to finance culture.’ Sometimes, she concluded, “We may seem very far away but are closer than we think.”

Simard’s call for ISP film funding comes, she said, as the film industry finds itself in “crisis,” “chaos” and the throes of a “revolution,” in a world where “”I watch whatever I want whenever I want wherever I want and I’ll pay if I want to.”

She went on: “Cable and satellite are obliged to make a contribution to content. This is a big issue as people are unsubscribing from cable and satellite and accessing TV via their Internet connection. And Internet in most countries is not regulated.”

How could the movie industry lobby effectively for ISP financing via some kind of levy?

“I strongly believe there have to be national and international coalitions to influence decision-makers regarding common problems. One common problem is Netflix,” Simard said, to a large agreement from a largely European industry audience.

Calling on the Locarno audience to “take action” not “endure,” Simard argued that the “the pace of change is exponential.”

As a sign of change in business models that was until recently “unthinkable,” she cited Paramount’s deals with AMC Entertainment Holdings and Canada’s Cineplex to compensate these exhibition chains on two titles that would be made available to Internet consumption just two weeks after ending their runs in theaters.

“There’s so much [content]. As you as producers, how can you make your films be recognized, known, watched or rented? This is especially a big, big challenge for public institutions…. At one point, if the films we produce is not known or seen by anybody, we will get the reasoning: ‘Why should we put public money into films which are not seen”?

Other Simard recommendations:

1.“Balance resources,” she said, referring to public and private sectors. “Most money is spent on production, The part left for exploitation is too small. If you make a good film with no resources to exploit it, there’s no sense making it in a way.”

2.Internet aggregators and platforms should specialize in order to find different audiences. “There’s a phrase in French: ‘Too much is like nothing.’”

3.Encourage collaboration between producers and distributors.

4.Re-measure success. Box office alone “doesn’t mean anything any more. You have to measure success by eyeballs. “

5. “Make use of technology as much as you can.”

6.”There has to be more innovation and risk-taking. You have to be lucid but still very ambitious.”

Simard introduced an open discussion among professionals in which Jon Barrenechea, at the U.K.’s Picturehouse cinema theater loop, and Susan Wendt, at Danish sales company TrustNordisk, cited best practices in a fast evolving European landscape.

One, Barrenechea argued, is “a real resurgence in neighborhood cinemas,” citing the case of a 243-seat three-screen in Dulwich, a more affluent part of south London. “It’s doing incredible business. 90% of audiences are people within 10 minutes’ walk of the cinema.” Picturehouse is opening three-to-four new cinema theaters a year. Multiplexes in Russia have began to program arthouse pics “in a big way,” to sometimes positive results, he added.

European cinema could fall into three categories, Wendt argued, reporting back from a Sunday morning work group: “Small films, from first-time film-makers, which have a festival life; higher-end movies with stars and name directors, which go to big festivals thirdly, films in the middle-range. It’s the third type that is the “big challenge,” Wendt suggested. Filmmakers also have to “eventize” their movies.

Also rolling off Sunday morning group work table discussions, Mathias Noschis, at Alphapanda, and The Film Agency’s Sarah Calderon outlined marketing strategies for two Locarno titles: Josh Mond’s “James White” and “Keeper,” from Guillaume Senez. Christina Eloy at Europa Distribution confirmed that the association forms part of a group of industry orgs that is meeting with European Members of Parliament and the Commission to present the consequences of forcing through a Digital Single Market for the film industry.

Locarno’s StepIn was wrapped up by concluding remarks from Lesli Klainberg, executive director of the Film Society of the Lincoln Center, who suggested story-telling will remain the key to success, even in a multi-platform world, and called for diversity in moviemaking: If people do not recognize themselves in the films they see, they could stop going to the movies, she warned.