Post-COVID Recovery is a Familiar Challenge for Global Film, TIFFCOM Seminar Is Told

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train
Koyoharu Gotoge/Shueisha, Aniplex, Ufotable

One way to help the film industry prepare for the post-COVID future would be to look at lessons from the past, a Monday seminar at TIFFCOM, the market component of the Tokyo International Film Festival, heard.

Shiina Yasushi, head of TIFFCOM, said that Japanese film studios faced a similar dilemma with the growth of home video in the 1980s. They managed to counter falling box office revenues by getting into video themselves. “My concern is how we can enjoy revenues from streaming markets, especially SVOD,” he said.

Other speakers at the session included: Mathieu Fournet, head of the international policy unit at France’s National Film Center (CNC); and Jang Gwang-soo, industry support division executive director at the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).

Despite the emergence of the occasional blockbuster, like the Japanese anime megahit “Demon Slayer,” overall box office numbers were heavily impacted by the pandemic last year, the panelists said. Revenues were down by about half in Japan, and 70% in Korea.

This year, with infection numbers decreasing, moviegoers have been returning to theaters. Fournet noted that in France nine million cinema tickets were sold in September, about 80% of pre-COVID figures. “So, the audience is back,” he said.

The absence of Hollywood blockbusters has given local films a box office boost. “The share for French films has been almost 47% in the past nine months, which is kind of a good result,” Fournet said.

At the same time, the market has changed, with fans now used to viewing film and other content on streaming services after months of isolation. Shiina said that in 2020 the Japanese SVOD market grew to $2.9 billion.

“SVOD has had a major influence on not only Japanese cinemas, but also on content holders and audiences,” Shiina said. “[Luring audiences out of their living rooms and back into theaters] is one of the big challenges for us in the upcoming months,” Fournet said.

KOFIC has set up a task force “to adjust the existing support programs to increase the scope of assistance that we provide,” beginning with cash subsidies to struggling movie theaters, Jang said.

The French government put in place a fund to compensate theaters, distributors, sales agents, directors and scriptwriters for lost business, Fournet explained.

For the rebuilding phase, the French government plans to invest in studios and digital production facilities. This, marks a change from the way the French industry has worked ever since the Nouvelle Vague of the 1960s. “We used the streets of Paris as our landscape. So, France didn’t have very big studio facilities,” Fournet said.

KOFIC is holding discussions with Korean industry figures to map out objectives for the coming five to ten years. Jang said that the aim is to repair a “damaged ecosystem” and “stabilize the environment for the people in the industry,” in order to stem the exodus of talent to streaming platforms.

The rise of streamers has become a big challenge for the French industry in particular. “We are not willing to just become executive producers for American platforms,” Fournet said. “We want our industry to remain independent.” Among the suggested solutions are language-based quotas and “a very high level of financing obligations” on streaming platforms, ranging from taxes to investment requirements, aimed at supporting local production.

Korea has a similar cinema development fund, with its financing coming only from ticket sales, but – unlike France – not from other media. One result is that a streaming megahit like “Squid Game” made money for Netflix, but since it was not made as a feature film, the Korean movie industry did not benefit. “So, for us it’s not such a great success,” Jang  said. “This is a challenge for Korea. How do we broaden the source of [film] financing?”

Shiina said Japan faces a similar problem. “Streaming providers are getting the lion’s share of revenues. In Japan, we need to find a better scenario,” he said.