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Italy Defends New Quotas on Local Content for Broadcasters, Streamers

ROME – Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Monday defended contentious new local quotas that will force broadcasters and streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to increase the amount of European and domestic content they offer Italian viewers.

The stringent content quotas, approved by the Italian parliament last week, oblige broadcasters to air a minimum of 53% of European content during 2019, a percentage that will incrementally rise to 60% by 2021. The new rules also require commercial Italian TV channels to air at least one homegrown movie or scripted TV show during prime time each week, while pubcaster Rai will have to air two.

Franceschini (pictured) said he wants to kick-start a “virtuous cycle” in the Italian industry with the new rules, but broadcasters have objected to the quotas. The minister said the “most absurd criticism” he has heard is that, by forcing broadcasters to air Italian cinema in prime time, he will make them “lose audience share and advertising revenues.” But Franceschini noted that Italian cinema needs to broaden its audience base.

The quotas have been approved just as moviegoing attendance in Italy is sagging, down roughly 10% for the first half of 2017. Italian films are getting pummeled at the box office, where the local market share for the first half was down to 16%, from a 28% market share for all of 2016.

The quotas are the final step in wide-ranging film and TV legislation that supporters say will inject some €400 million ($476 million) annually into the industry via various types of innovative support schemes, including stronger incentives to attract international productions and a plan to relaunch the country’s storied Cinecittà Studios. That legislation is now operational, though a few final kinks remain to be worked out.

Film and TV screenwriter Stefano Sardo (“The Double Hour, “1992”) who heads Italian auteurs’ association 100 Autori, said the protectionist quotas “will allow our product to survive in a context which is increasingly difficult since we are competing against giants with much broader shoulders.” Sardo went on to note that “you can’t conquer an audience by forcing it to watch something,” an observation he made to underline that the Italian industry must now “rise to the occasion.”

Though Italy’s new rules are also supposed to apply to Netflix and Amazon, it’s still unclear how the quotas will be enforced, since streamers don’t have “prime time.”

Critics say that the most immediate consequence of the law is that the value of Italian library content, which Italy’s outlets will need as filler in order to comply, has just increased tenfold. Rai and Mediaset own 90% of local film library content.

But some Italian producers are happy for the boost to their content. “We are at the starting blocks,” said Francesca Cima, a partner in Indigo Film (“The Great Beauty”), adding that the new legislation “celebrates a new vision of the interaction between the government and the industry.”

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