Territory-by-territory licensing, the backbone of the European film and TV industries and Hollywood’s billion-dollar revenues from the continent, looks like it will survive the European Commission’s push for a unified digital market in Europe.
That, at least, is the message that is now loud and clear from the commission, the executive arm of the European Union, as senior industry figures in Europe now buy into it.
“Over the last 18 months or so, we have seen the commission’s position evolve as it has learned the mechanisms of how the film industry works,” said Marco Chimenz, president of Italy’s Cattleya production shingle and also of the European Producer’s Club.
He added: “I am now optimistic on the two fronts of DG Connect [European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology, which oversees the push for a unified single market] and DG Comp [the EC directorate general for competition, which oversees anti-trust issues]. But the story continues.”
Going forward, it looks as if the commission and Europe’s industry will work far more closely to identify where in film and TV there can be larger cross-border access, rather than the commission imposing one size fits all regulation on Europe’s film and TV sectors.
Delivering a welcome speech at the Venice Market’s Europe Film Forum Sept. 4, Gunther H. Oettinger, the senior European Commission official who, with Andrus Ansip, is leading the charge to set up a digital market explained that this would be introduced — for film, TV, and sports, at least — in a “step-by-step, targeted approach” rather than “a complete overhaul of the system.”
Talking to the Italian press, Oettinger went on to explain that “in general we do not accept geo-blocking,” The Commission was certainly pressing forward for a common digital market in some sectors, such as e-commerce. “But some sectors are special: The film sector, TV and sports.”
Here Oettinger said that he had spent two days at Venice trying to get this across to the industry. “We need balanced solutions and a step-by-step approach. Our European film sector is based on the principle of territoriality.”
Oettinger went on to reference the case of an Austrian film released first in Austria and then released across Europe but at a significantly later date. “To produce European films and finance European production means a base of territoriality. We don’t want to destroy such business cases. We don’t know what will happen in [the future] but for the moment we have to accept this principle.”
At Venice, Oettinger outlined a package of targeted copyright regulation proposals that will be detailed at the end of September. These look set to include public funding for subtitling and dubbing of European works, via the Creative Europe’s Media Program, and the promotion of licensing apps, to facilitate digital distribution of films and TV in countries that have not won theatrical distribution.
Also on the agenda: a focus on Europe’s animation sector, launching “a dialogue with major European animation studios identifying specific opportunities and a joint action-plan by mid next year,” Oettinger said.
Oettinger also added that he was battling against a €4.5 million ($5 million) cut in Media Program funding for 2017.
Concerns remain. Another part of late September’s copyright package is a review of the E.U.’s Satellite & Cable Directive. A 1994 regulation, the & S Directive currently allows a channel uplink from one European country that spills via satellite broadcast into other countries to be retransmitted by local foreign cable players, rights being cleared and paid for via collecting societies. Hollywood and European film orgs fear the directive will now be extended to online distribution. In other words, that it would allow someone in Estonia to access the BBC’s popular iPlayer. More details of the Cable & Satellite Directive will be known “in two to three weeks,” Oettinger said.
Hollywood and Europe’s industry still has to see a resolution to the antitrust case opened by the commission’s competition authorities regarding exclusive deals between six Hollywood major studios and U.K. pay-TV giant Sky. The commission’s objection to these deals rests on their territoriality, Chimenz commented.
He went on: “It would be ridiculous for one part of the commission to adopt a philosophy of preserving territoriality in Europe and another part to oppose it.”