Tuesday, July 13, 2004

La Fin for France's Film Rules?

What I found most interesting in Eric Pfanner's IHT article is how the EU, while striking down France's protection laws, said squarely and forthrightly that "the measure deprives French consumers of a wider choice of European cultural goods". That, of course, goes against the conventional wisdom here, the one that repeats the government's mantra, the one that claims that the government's protection is of the benign type, since it allegedly provides for endless diversity and boundless creativity. (Emphasis is mine.)
The European Commission has taken square aim at a pillar of the French "cultural exception," asking the government to change rules that ban television advertising of films and books.

Paris maintains that the ban aids the endangered newspaper industry by channeling ad sales its way and encourages media diversity by helping French films and books survive amid bigger-budget (that is, American) competition. The commission disagreed with that justification.

"By impeding operators in other member states from advertising and using a very efficient means of promotion to enter the French market, the measure deprives French consumers of a wider choice of European cultural goods," the commission said in a statement. The commission has been aggressively pushing ways to create a more unified market for goods and services across a newly enlarged European Union.

…Under pressure from the commission, France has already had to lift a ban on television advertising by retailers, which was intended to protect small shops against hypermarket operators like Carrefour. The French television ad bans are unusual, though Germany, like France, has long had restrictions on discounting of books, for instance, in an effort to protect small publishers and booksellers.

…Film is another matter [than the book market. The TBWA's Jean-Pierre Rousset] estimated that movie distributors might spend as much as E50 million, or $62 million, a year to promote their films in France. A sizable portion of this might be new spending from Hollywood studios or the larger French distributors, who have been forced to rely mostly on newspapers, billboards and radio until now.

"In the end, it's a lost fight," he said of efforts to keep the ban in place. "It's much better to find other ways to discover new talent." In addition to banning television ads for movies, France encourages local film production with the largest public subsidies of any European country. It has been relatively successful in its effort to foster the development of the domestic film industry.

In 2002, 35 percent of French box office sales stemmed from domestically produced films, the highest percentage in Europe …Thus, independent producers argue that ending the advertising ban would put them at a severe disadvantage.

…It is not all bad news, however. The government has also been weighing allowing French television channels to run more advertisements. Advertising time has been strictly limited, particularly on publicly financed channels like France 2. Because broadcasters are required to give a portion of their revenue to finance cinema and television production, increased ad sales could create a bigger pool of money.

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