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E.U.’s Media Program Begins Battle to Secure Future

The large question is just how much E.U. funding it can attract for the future

A mainstay of Europe’s film and TV business for 27 years, plowing €2.4 billion ($3.0 billion) into the industry since 1999,  the future of the European Union’s Creative Europe Media Program is now in doubt.

Nobody questions that it will be renewed for 2021-27. The big question is whether it will have the budget to continue making a real impact. That is no given. So suddenly it is the Media Program, its potential budget and changes, which is drawing large heat in discussions of Europe’s audiovisual future.

The Commission is currently accepting ideas for the next Media Program. It will make its formal proposal later this year. So it will not commit too far at the moment as to possible change.

Held at the Berlin Film Festival, a European Film Forum, introduced by a keynote by the E.U. Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, sketched out, however, some possible ways forward for the Media Program.

Challenges for funding are manifest and large. Brexit may pare the E.U.’s overall budget. Since late 2013, when the last Media Program was approved, urgent issues have emerged – the refugee crisis, a common defence policy – which compete with the Media Program for funding.

Last time round, in 2013, the European Parliament signed off on a budget of €1.46 billion for the whole of Creative Europe over 2014-20, up 9% on prior funding. €820 million ($1.0 billion) of that, an average of €117 million ($144 million) a year, went to Media.

For 2021-27, “First of all, we need to maintain the budget, for Creative Europe as a whole, and the Media Program in particular,” Gabriel told Variety at Berlin.

An internal mid-term evaluation of Creative Europe is reported to have found that the Media Program was too atomized, splintered into 14 support schemes and 20 action initiatives.

“Maybe it’s time to rethink this, to narrow the number of actions, but to have less actions with more effect, to maximize the effects of our biggest projects” Gabriel reflected.

Distribution, currently accounting for some 39% of Media funding, is likely to remain a major focus.

“What’s important is to keep the budget, simplify the actual schemes, to see how we can strengthen distribution,” Gabriel said in Berlin.

As the E.U.’s 2021-27 budget comes up for discussion, an immediate priority is simply to heighten awareness of Media’s achievements. That should not be hard. Targeting development, distribution and training rather than production, which is left to individual E.U. countries, the Media Progam’s aims to enhance the cross-border circulation of film, TV shows and now gaming.

Its impact is pervasive. Six of the Berlinale’s 20 movies in competition received Media support, including Berlin’s Golden Bear winner “Touch Me Not,” and “The Heiresses,” which took four prizes. Six of the last nine foreign-language Academy Award winners have received Media finance. One initiative, Europa Cinemas, supports 1,182 cinemas in 682 cities in 69 countries around the world that program a high proportion of European-origin films. Drama series “Versailles” and “The Bridge” have received Media support, as have “Amour,” “Paddington,” and even “The King’s Speech” (which received €1 million – $1.1 million – for its distribution in Europe).

“We need to promote our success stories,” Gabriel said. “We’ve brought together different stakeholders from member states, producers, distributors, helped break down silos between producers and distributors,” she added pointing out that Europe’s creative industries is the third-largest sector in Europe in terms of job creation and growth.

If Creative Europe and the Media Program need to blow their trumpets, it is probably as much with other parts of the Commission as the industry at large.

Launched in 1991, the Media Program has enjoyed the active involvement of some of the highest profile figures in Europe’s film and TV industry over the last 50 years. David Putnam chaired the Media Business School, one of its biggest early training initiatives; in 1986, Dieter Kosslick co-founded the European Film Distribution Office (EFDO), a precursor of Media’s distribution support scheme.

“European film heritage draws worldwide praise,” a second Film Forum keynote speaker, Rodolphe Buet, Global Road Ent. president of international, wrote in a study, “The Future of Media After 2020.” “It has built on well-designed support and regulatory policies” including Media, he added. Few would argue with that.

The Media Program is not the be-all and end-all of the European Commission’s film and TV support. Gabriel aims to launch a digital directory for European films allowing, in a first step, professionals to learn what European film is available where.

Then there’s education. “We need to educate children in schools about Europe’s rich film heritage. If all they see when young is Netflix and YouTube, then they’ll grow wanting these platforms,” Gabriel added.

Any scheme to address that would most probably lie outside the Media Program as well.

But the Media Program remains central to the E.U.’s audiovisual ambitions. Launched in 1991, it has also helped to give a new generation of cineastes emerging from the ‘80s onwards a more industrial, audience-minded and international mindset.

For 2018, expect a building industry mobilization across Europe, supporting a Commission idea: the Media Program. There’s a lot at stake. The value of the European audiovisual market is estimated at over €100 billion ($123 billion), Buet suggested in his report. But the Media Program has to take larger account of the digital age. Just how it will do so will focus many discussions this Spring.

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