Culture is future » Financing and economic models

06.14.2013

Contribution: "Cultural Europe: from exception to resignation?" by Pascal Lechevallier

The love story between Europe and culture economically took shape beginning 1977 (Plan d’action culturelle), and was then crystallized following the Maastricht agreements in 1992. The community then focused on nurturing the development of member-state countries, respecting their national and regional diversity, while also respecting common cultural heritage.

During the recent 2007-2013 interval, several frameworks were set up to consolidate institutional support for cultural creations, and more specifically creation in the audiovisual, film, and television industries. MEDIA (Mesures pour encourager le développement de l'industrie audiovisuelle) illustrates this perfectly: launched in the 1990s, the program allowed professionals in the audiovisual industry to defend their cultural diversity, and more specifically their exception culturelle when confronted with American competition, which remains at the top of the film and television industries. The most recent MEDIA plan dating from 2007, is meant to be carried out until 2013 and has a budget of 755 million euros at the disposal of all member states. One of its primary goals is to allow the emergence and the use of digital technologies in all cultural industries.

In France, where the notion of exception culturelle is the most anchored, public power has set up stimulating frameworks around audiovisual creative projects, the most symbolic being the CNC, a fund that redistributes over 600 million euros per year to jobs in the audiovisual industry. Further frameworks were set up to place quotas on the distribution of culture.

The rapid deployment of internet, the boom of digital technologies in film and television, the emergence of new popular cultural world players (Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix), have on one hand facilitated the circulation of audiovisual products that open new potential proceeds, but on the other hand create tensions in regards to Europe’s position in this new digital age that is conquering the world. It is not surprising that France should stand up against the EU free-trade negotiations with the US.

Even if José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, has declared this week (May 15th, 2013) that “the European Commission will not negotiate what constitutes exception culturelle, namely audiovisual quotas and the funds granted by the member states, and which are added to the MEDIA funds. He specifies, “we must not exclude the audiovisual industry from the negotiations with the US, even if the exception culturelle is itself not negotiable”.

 As being conscious of this threat, “France spearshead the fight to defend the respect of the exception culturelle”, declares Aurélie Filippetti, the French minister for Culture and Communication, in a Press Release published on May 14th 2013. Fourteen European States gathered under the tricolored flag to protect the exception culturelle, aiming at “exclude audiovisual services from any free-trade engagement”.

Although, as the ascendancy of American cinema still is very strong in the European continent, isn’t this defense line quite late ? The defense of the digital exception culturelle –as this will be the topic of the next decade –makes any sense when internet becomes liquid and penetrates all the boundaries without paying any toll ? This fight isn’t marked by the sign of resignation ?

Because, looking more attentively, the french exception culturelle nourishes itself mainly from the American film industry’s power in order to abound the CNC support funds: thus, during the three first months of 2013, American cinema represents respectively 50% of the box office, 65% of material video sales and 53% of VOD. What makes American cinema the first contributor to the CNC funds, that will be distributed  among the whole industry latter.

Even better, the main distribution societies of programs in DVD and Blu-Ray are most of the time piloted by local branches of American studios. For instance, Universal distributes the Studio Canal catalogue, Paramount the Gaumont and TF1 ones, and Fox, in the context a GIE the films from Pathé and Europa, and Warner distributes the M6 one.

Finally, most of the French producers, the same that defend the exception culturelle, have sign digital agreements with foreign VOD platforms as iTunes, Google Play, Xbox and Sony Playstation,  and are completely conscious that their future passes throughout  structuring agreements with these new actors, who are not that mean !

Of course, the digital threaten of the US over the film industry is not a fantasy, but instead of resign ourselves to a dogmatic combat than won’t offer any  tradable solution, isn’t it time to invite our American friends to the negotiations table in order to construct the digital future of our cultures together ? On Mai the 20th, during the Cannes Festival, the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the National Center of Cinema and Motion Pictures organized an international lectural about “Reinforce the cultural exception in the future Europe”: that’s a first step. Necessary but not sufficient. France must, Europe must, consider the digital future of its film industry by defining with our American partners clear and transparent guidelines that would bring ambitious economic perspectives.

Then, we should protect our exception by passing from resignation to a new ambition.

 

About Pascal Lechevallier

Pascal Lechevallier manages a firm specialized in new media. He supports audiovisual and media professionals in setting up innovative digital strategies. Pascal Lechevallier is the founder of TF1Vision, TF1 group’s VOD service.

His website : http://www.zdnet.fr/

On Twitter : @PLechevallier