Filmmakers and public service broadcasters need greater political support

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

European public service media and European film exist in delicate symbiosis – neither would prosper without the other, write the heads of public services broadcasters from 19 European countries.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the organisation representing public broadcasters in Europe. This OpEd was signed by Jean Paul-Philippot, president of the EBU, and 19 other leading figures at public broadcasters across Europe.

In this era of budget cuts and meteoric technological progress European cinema remains a common good for all who call this continent home.

Our mission, as public service media, is to provide a quality cultural offer that is richly diverse, innovative, and accessible to Europe and the wider world. European filmmakers are turning out a top quality product that, unfortunately, is only reaching a fraction of its potential market. However, with the right will, this can change.

As well as more investment in areas like quality subtitling and dubbing and cross-border marketing and promotion, greater political support is also needed at national and EU level. Training should be enhanced and improved, and international co-productions should be encouraged and incentivised.

An example of public service media’s commitment to the promotion of European culture, is the launch this week by the European Broadcasting Union of the first Eurovision Film Week – the largest, most accessible film festival ever. Twenty-six EBU members, European public service broadcasters, will show select feature-length films, all produced in Europe, many unknown outside their country of origin. Radio and television channels will air debates, documentaries about films, interviews with stars, directors and writers, and talk about the magic of film music.

Italian-American director Frank Capra said, “Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music”, an unwittingly appropriate observation in the European context. And with so many countries and cultures in Europe, cinema today, like public service broadcasting, remains a root contributor to national identity.

European public service media and European film exist in delicate symbiosis; neither would prosper without the other. We are proud to be part of this relationship, and will strive to safeguard its continuity. Public service broadcasters (PSBs) provide the most watched platforms for film viewing – the average TV viewer sees about 80 films per year at home. And PSBs are among the biggest film investors and promoters, as well as often being the commissioning parties. In short, public broadcasters are the film industry’s most significant silent partner. Seven of the 11 European films that competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year were co-financed by public broadcasters, including the winner – “La vie d’Adèle”. Public service media also supported Golden Lion winner “Sacro Gra” at the Venice Film Festival.

Many European PSBs support filmmaking because of their remit; we invest far more money in filmmaking than privately-owned media companies. More than all others, it is public broadcasters that promote independent filmmaking, produce films and series, have fixed transmission slots for national film productions, and set aside more airtime for European films than their private counterparts. In 2011 around 52% of films in public TV schedules were European, compared to just 33% in the case of private media groups.

In 2010, the 56.7 billion euro European film industry was made up of 88,000 separate companies employing 380,000 people. But our film industry needs action if it is to remain successful and competitive.

Lightning-speed broadband is becoming commonplace, giving households finger-tip access to an array of delivery platforms. At the touch of a button, viewers can browse an endless library of blockbusters and rarities. Easier access to audiences is great news for film lovers and producers, but it also means that national and European filmmakers will have to work even harder to get noticed.

In addition, the silent partner underpinning this industry has problems of its own. PSBs are under serious financial pressures that are, largely, politically driven. Many have to meet extra costs and the need to provide additional services on an increasing number of platforms with static or shrinking resources.

Regrettably, the success of our vital, vibrant film industry is limited by a struggle to transcend national borders. Most European countries mainly show either US or domestic productions in cinemas. Indeed, in 2012, American films represented 62 percent of the EU market and national films almost 20%, leaving only a 14% market share for non-national European films .  

In all of these areas, greater political support is needed to safeguard our heritage and bring the wonders of European filmmaking to as wide an audience as possible. For our part as public service media, we must be shrewd about the features we invest in, and make marketing and promotion, so fundamental to the success of films, a higher priority. 

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