A fast-changing audiovisual ecosystem in Europe has spawned new initiatives in a bid to level the playing field among established media companies and streaming platforms.

The European Union has adopted the new Creative Europe 2021-2017 program with a hefty budget increase that is now being implemented with a Media and Audiovisual Action Plan introduced last December in tandem with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), an unprecedented recovery plan for Europe with a total budget of € 723.8 billion. Its chief aim is to bolster and stimulate the European audiovisual industry which now faces deep change brought about in particular by digitalization and the greening agenda, a process further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ably moderated by Elena Neira, founder and CEO of La Otra Pantalla, Spain, two panels at the European Film Forum, held Monday Sept. 20 at the San Sebastian Film Festival, addressed both the issues of greening and digitalization.

Introducing the forum, San Sebastian Film Festival director Jose Luis Rebordinos apologized for not having the event at its usual venue, the San Telmo Museum, for the second year running due to ongoing health protocols.

Speaking via a video link, Lucía Recalde, head of the European Commission’s unit audiovisual industry and media support programs, said: “By all means, we are not back to the pre-COVID normal, in fact the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already present in the audiovisual ecosystem.

“We are entering the new normal but the main key element of this new normal is the extremely quick and profound transformation of the audiovisual ecosystem,” she added.

Pointing out the high relevance of Monday’s panels, conducted mostly in English, Recalde said: “the green agenda and digitalization are the two drivers behind this transformation.”

The first panel, titled ‘Green Deal: Challenges or Opportunities for the European Audiovisual Industry, sparked a lively debate among the panelists made up of Luz Molina, head of the European Green Screen project (Interreg Europe) in Promálaga, Spain; Álvaro Longoria, VP of the European Producers Club as well as a producer and partner at Spain’s Morena Films; Paloma Andrés Urrutia, co-founder of Fiction Changing the World and Mrs. Greenfilm, Spain and Zsofia Szemeredy, sustainability consultant & development executive and co-founder of Green Eyes Production in Hungary.

While all agreed that all audiovisual companies had to be schooled on making their productions adopt more sustainability and green protocols, there was less consensus on how quickly they should be adopted.

Said Longoria: “We need to make these mandatory; that all productions must have a green seal and it needs to be implemented as soon as possible.”

“If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, we can adopt new protocols quickly,” Szemeredy concurred, pointing out that COVID protocols raise budgets by an average 10% while adopting a green agenda would only impact budgets by 00.1%.

Molina disagreed, saying that going green had to be progressive and that producers needed to be educated on how to use the technology to measure their production’s carbon footprint and other tools that measure water toxicity, etc. Andrés asserted that there was a need for universal tools available to everyone worldwide.

Szemeredy saw no reason why implementing and education could not run in parallel.

“Our past five movies at Morena Films have been eco productions but how to offset one’s carbon footprint? They told us we have to plant 6,000 trees for 30 years to offset our carbon footprint, how do we do that?” exclaimed Longoria, who listed four hurdles facing producers: Costs, hiring a green consultant who is invariably viewed as a nuisance on sets; the question of how to measure the carbon footprint given the diversity of tools in the market and transportation.

“People come to sets in their own cars, stars fly in on private jets; you can’t expect them to fly coach,” he said.

The second panel addressed the question “Digitization and Big Data: What Path Should Europe Take?

Here, panelists Niels Alberg, co-founder and CEO, Publikum, Denmark, Emilio Sánchez Zaballos, manager of video and online platforms at Atresmedia, Spain, and Oliver Fegan, co-founder and CEO, Usheru, Ireland discussed, among other issues, the pros and cons of using algorithms in determining content.

“What’s exciting is that we producers can apply a more direct consumer approach; in the past only cinemas had data on audiences.” Both Fegan and Alberg cited filmmakers they worked with who changed the concepts of their films after receiving data feedback.

They pointed out that major studios were at liberty to pay more for data but not smaller ones. “I need 100 customers to break even,” Fegan pointed out although he did add that Facebook is a useful free resource.

Alberg argued that algorithms could provide inspiration and insight to creatives.

Sanchez cautioned against over relying on big data for creative decisions. “At the end of the day, big data can’t compare to experts with years of experience in the field,” he asserted.