Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has suggested that the European film industry should consider a single market that takes advantage of economies of scale, and reconsider release windows.
Offering her thoughts on ‘Helping European films thrive’ as part of a Round Table on ‘Financing and distribution of European films in the EU digital market’ held in Cannes during the MIPCOM international programming market, and attended by representatives of main European cinema organisations, well-known European film directors, CEOs of major European broadcasting, telecom and production companies and VOD platforms, Kroes noted that online video-on-demand was a new way for people to enjoy and consume films, and that there were different ways for the industry to view that.
“On the one hand, you could see it as a threat to the status quo, as something against which cinemas or broadcasters can’t possibly compete; something to be resisted. But I don’t agree. Just look back. Once, film and cinema were themselves new technologies: exciting, disruptive, unique. And then other technologies came in turn to compete and disrupt: the television, the video cassette, the DVD,” she noted.
“In the wake of those changes, the cinema didn’t merely survive, but flourished. Not by ignoring those changes, but by adapting to them, and benefiting from them. Once the cinema was where you went to watch the news: no longer. But people still happily pay hundreds of millions to see a single film in a single weekend. Adaptation has made the industry stronger,” she asserted.
Suggesting that the music industry’s resistance to promoting legal downloads hadn’t done it any favours, she said new technology was better for everyone. “Better for consumers, who got more convenience and choice. Better for artists, who got bigger audiences buying their music. And better for all sectors, all channels of the industry. Because people who download music don’t stop buying CDs, or stop going to concerts: they do it all the more,” she added.
“Nothing beats the online channel for instant access; but nothing beats the experience of live music. And both complement and support each other. I think it’s the same for films. The digital age isn’t a threat to the film industry, neither to cinemas nor broadcasters. It’s not something to be ignored; still less something to be fought, tackled, legislated against. But it’s an opportunity: something to be welcomed, supported, embraced,” she suggested.
“Online channels offer a new way to reach out to a different audience – an audience who, for one reason or another, wouldn’t go to the cinema. A new tool to market, promote and generate a ‘buzz’ – think of the power of friends’ recommendations on social media,” she noted.
She said she was optimistic that, for the film sector, the opportunities of ICT significantly outweighed the costs. She also wanted to help, suggesting the right legal framework could support such efforts. “For example: different Member States take different approaches to release windows. In some, strict legislation sets out when a film can be shown in cinemas, when released on DVD and so on. Others take a more flexible approach, able to adapt to the needs of different films, different business models, and new emerging technologies,” she advised.
“But today I’d like to think, not about the status quo, but about what framework would best support the sector. Let me tell you what I’d like to see. I’d like a framework of rules that lets your sector take advantage of single market economies of scale. Opening up an audience of 500 million people. A framework that helps the European companies who have new ideas and new business models. I don’t want us just to wait for America to nurture new ideas before we import them. I want those ideas to be born here in Europe, and to grow and flourish here too; with easy access to a Single Market providing fertile soil for that growth,” she declared.
“I want a framework that limits piracy – not simply through ever-more aggressive enforcement, but by making it easier for people to get what they want, instantly, on-demand and legally; without facing frustrating, artificial barriers. I want a framework offering choice for film fans – with a range of ways for them to enjoy films, a range every bit as sophisticated and diverse as their consumer needs and preferences. A framework that promotes and protects our cultural diversity: so we can continue to share, learn from and profit from Europe’s magnificent cultural heritage. And, overall, a framework supporting the creative sector. So that we provide the greatest reward and recognition for creators; the highest return for investors; the best results for our cultural sector.”
For Kroes, the current rules on release windows don’t provide the best combination for such a framework, leading her to suggest that this was a promising area to look at. “But we need your views on how best to do so. You are the experts in your sector. And you bring a variety of perspectives to these discussions: I want to hear them all. Please be constructive and creative. Please speak and listen freely and with an open mind. Please let us know your views and experiences of what works—and what doesn’t. That can give us the evidence we need to support a thriving film sector in the digital age,” she concluded.