Proposals to Shorten Windowing in France Unveiled

France’s strict windowing timeline – the subject of hot debate at last year’s Cannes Film Festival – could be shortened by more than half in some cases under a set of proposed reforms unveiled Friday by a government-appointed mediator.

The proposals were presented by mediator Dominique d’Hinnin to France’s culture minister, Françoise Nyssen, who had tapped d’Hinnin last October to come up with possible changes to windowing regulations. D’Hinnin, the former head of TV company Lagardère, drafted the proposed reforms in consultation with rights-holders, producers, distributors, free-to-air and pay-TV channels, exhibitors and streaming services.

Film and TV bodies have until March 19 to sign off on the proposed revisions. If they cannot agree, the government is entitled to step in and set new windowing rules that would be valid for three years.

Under the current system, streaming services must wait three years to offer a title after it debuts in theaters. If d’Hinnin’s proposals are approved, that window would be shortened to 15 months (or 13 months for movies whose theater admissions fall below a yet-to-be-determined threshold). The change would apply only to streaming services like CanalPlay and FilmoTV that invest in French content via a tax paid to the National Film Board (CNC).

By contrast, global streamers such as Netflix and Amazon which don’t pay that tax would still have to wait 35 months to access films – only one month less than the current situation. The government is hoping that these services will start paying the tax in order to take advantage of the 15-month window. On top of the levy, the services would also have to sign a pact with French film industry organizations on investment quotas.

Last September, the European Commission greenlit a French draft proposal to force foreign streaming services like Netflix and video-sharing websites like YouTube, which are not fiscally established in France, to pay the 2% tax to the CNC. Netflix said it was “reviewing the announcement” and urged policymakers to consider its direct investments in European content as they reform the rules for national funds, highlighting also it was already the biggest purveyor of French content abroad.

It’s unlikely Netflix will pay the tax in exchange for earlier access to movies, since the new regulations would still not allow them to skip a theatrical release or day-and-date movies in France. The streaming giant hit a wall of protest, mostly from French exhibitors, during last year’s Cannes Film Festival because their two movies slated for competition – Joon-Ho Bong’s “Okja” (pictured) and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” – did not have plans for a theatrical release in France.

Getting Netflix and Amazon to subsidize French content through the tax is a priority for Nyssen, who said last October that the “modernization of…windowing [must] favor the investment in film creation by favoring services which take risks and finance French and European film production.”

The other proposed changes would see the window for theaters as well as DVD and transactional VOD shortened from four months to three months for movies with lower box office results. The idea is to give movies that under-perform in theaters a second chance on VOD and DVD. These films would also roll out on pay- or free-TV channels one month or two months earlier, respectively, than they normally would.

Another digital-friendly change would see movies stay available on streaming services for pay-per-view consumption indefinitely, instead of being pulled after six months.

Pay-TV channels such as Canal Plus, which remains France’s biggest investor in local films, would have access to films seven months after their releases instead of 10 months, while windows for free-to-air channels would be shortened to 19 months from the current 22 months.

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