European Union’s Media Program Celebrates 25 Years of Cultural Support

European Union's Media Program Celebrates 25 Years of Cultural Support
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In era of continued friction among European Union states, and an upcoming EU referendum in Blighty that may see the country exit the 28-member state in June, Creative Europe’s Media Program has long been a haven of openness and inclusiveness across the creative industries.

There are seven film in Cannes Competition they have tapped Media funding, including Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta.”

Founded in 1991 by the EU, the Media Program set out to support collaboration and cultural diversity among European audiovisual players in what was, at the time, a fragmented market. Focusing initially on film content, the program has since diversified its reach to TV and gaming in response to the media sector’s changing landscape.

In the past 25 years, Media has invested €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion) into film, television and video content across development, promotion and distribution within the continent and beyond.

“In Europe, we are very proud of our heritage and cultural diversity so I think the objectives for founding the Media program are still very valid today,” says Lucia Recalde, head of the Media unit. “We support the competitiveness and collaboration within the industry and industry players as well as supporting the richness of our histories and cultures.”

Media is in its fifth multi-annual program, which commenced in 2014. In that same year, it was brought under the European Commission’s new Creative Europe organization, which merged the old culture and audiovisual programs under one umbrella.

Out of Creative Europe’s current €1.46 billion ($1.67 billion) for 2014-20, Media has more than half of that budget — approximately €817 million ($935 million), or between €110 million and €120 million ($125 million and $137 million) per year.

Indeed, with such an expansive budget covering such a big territory, Media’s impact is huge. Six of the past seven Oscar winners for foreign-langauge film received Media support. Its budget goes far in supporting talent through training initiatives, encouraging co-productions, co-financing markets as well as distribution of content across Europe.

“The program’s relevance needs to be understood in the context of value that it can add to the work of European filmmakers,” says the European Commission’s vice president Andrus Ansip. “In this policy area as in many others, the EU only intervenes when to do so gives better results than by addressing issues nationally.

For example, we would have little impact of the production of works per se, but one area where we can help filmmakers is with raising the exposure of their work outside of their country, since audiovisual works do not travel much across Europe mainly due to language barriers.”

Most of Media’s funding — some 39% of it — is allocated to non-national distribution and online distribution of content. “We help distributors to screen foreign films and provide funding for marketing, print and advertising, subtitling and dubbing,” Ansip says.

Arthouse titles such as Cannes 2012 Palme d’Or winner “Amour,” French blockbuster “The Intouchables,” Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” and Oscar-winning “The Pianist” all benefited from sizable Media distribution coin, while U.K. projects such as “Paddington” and “Slumdog Millionaire” received €661,455 ($757,433) and €1.3 million ($1.5 million), respectively, in distribution support. Even Oscar best pic and global B.O. hit “The King’s Speech” was awarded more than €1 million ($1.1 million) to help the pic reach European auds.

“Access to content is the most important part of the program because it is about supporting the distribution of European and national works across European countries,” Recalde says.

Media also supports more than 2,000 indie arthouse distribs through Europa Cinemas, a network of 962 cinemas across the continent committed to screening European works.

“In distribution we are continuing to adapt,” Recalde says. “Around €10 million ($11.5 million) of our budget will go to promotion online. We are supporting the aggregation of catalogs that can be promoted and sold on a better basis existing on online platforms. We also support some innovative projects that are going to test new distribution strategies, one of the newest parts of our program.”

In 2014, Media awarded €450,000 ($515,385) to U.K. distributor-exhibitor Curzon specifically for its VOD platform. It has also invested in Spanish VOD service Filmin.

Media spends 33% of its budget on development for pics, TV and games. It has given coin to the development of titles such as Mike Newell’s “Great Expectations,” Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s foreign-language Oscar winner “Ida.”

“Many European companies focus their funds on production, and what we try to do is complement it downstream and upstream,” Recalde says. “Downstream is through distribution and exhibition, and upstream through the development. There are not as many schemes in Europe focusing on development, and that is becoming more and more important in order to make a really successful TV or film project.”

Unlike many national film bodies, Media doesn’t interfere on the creative or artistic aspects of a project.

“Creation and creativity is left to the artists, producers and filmmakers,” Ansip says. “What the EU does is broaden their exposure.”

Brit producer Rebecca O’Brien of Sixteen Films, the shingle behind Ken Loach’s pics, says the Media coin has been “invaluable” to their business.

“It’s meant that we’ve been able to develop what we want to develop,” she says. “They don’t interfere in terms of editorial. You have to report to them, but they allow you freedom. Plus, you can recycle the money if you go into production. It really is a very valuable thing.”

However, in the TV space, Media has lent its support to physical production, investing coin into Euro hits such as “The Bridge” (€1.4 million) and “The Borgias” (€500,000).

Media can also boast modest success on the animation front. In 1987, it established Cartoon, a Brussels-based association, which supports the toon biz through a series of annual events. Before its inception, a mere 20% of animation on European television was of European origin. Today, that figure sits at 60%.

“We believe our support has been really instrumental in professionalizing the sector and making it more competitive as well as opening it up to the international market,” Recalde says.

This year, the program opened its doors to the games biz, through a new scheme that will support the creative side of the sector.

“We were overwhelmed with applications,” says Recalde, who sees tapping into the new community as part of the program’s future.

Training programs represent another big piece of the Media puzzle. In 2014, the outfit supported 58 training initiatives and around 2,000 professionals in the biz. Since 2005, Media has invested €5.74 million ($6.57 million) in European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs, a program that provides filmmaking professionals with high-quality training opportunities in order to bring together producers and facilitate international co-productions.

“While creativity is a given in the industry, business readiness varies between countries,” Ansip says.

This has had a direct impact on employment across the continent. In 2012, it was estimated that 1.35 million people worked across film, TV and gaming in Europe, many of whom have been trained through initiatives financed by Media.

The program has also been instrumental in co-financing a raft of market events where companies can build networks. The largest co-production event in northern and central Europe, Estonia-based Baltic Event, has received Media funding since 2005, while Berlinale Talents, the annual summit and networking platform of the Berlin Intl. Film Festival is also supported by Media.

“We are celebrating 25 years of this program,” Recalde says. “But the main DNA of Media is its dynamics and its ability to adapt to new changes. We are constantly seeking the best balance between continuity and innovation and that is the main goal of this program.”