In July, the European Commission unveiled plans designed to transform media, the long-running subsidy program that provides public support for Europe’s audiovisual industry. Underlining the seriousness with which the E.C. views media, it has called for a 70% budget increase effective for 2007, the first year after the current incarnation of media comes to an end.
There’s no guarantee the E.C. will get the full total, and whatever increase media does receive will be offset by the addition of 10 new countries to the E.U. this year. Nonetheless, the E.C.’s call for a budget of E1,055 million (US$1.3 billion) over seven years is a significant jump from the current program’s E513 million ($630 million) over six years.
At a broad strategic level, media plays a part in the E.C.’s desire to make Europe the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. And, the E.C. believes the program has had a positive impact across the Union, both in production and distribution. The E.C.’s blueprint, which will be examined by the Audiovisual Group of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament before the end of 2005, would see E318 million allocated for the improvement of skills and project development; E566m for distribution, exhibition and promo; E52m for pilot projects; E34.7m for services such as media Desks and the Audiovisual Observatory; and E85m for admin.
It’s a similar balance to the current set-up, but Agnieszka Moody, director of Media Desk U.K., notes that the existing media Plus and media Training programs will be combined into one system. The E.C. believes this will simplify application procedures, increase transparency in awarding procedures, and facilitate a better exchange of information. Moody agrees.
The Commission also plans to delegate management of the program to an executive agency. What form this will take is unclear, since media itself has just been moved from the Education and Culture Directorate into Information Society.
While less bureaucracy is always welcome, applicants will have mixed views about the E.C.’s decision to continue ascribing more points to applications from low-capacity countries. While this seems to reduce the chances of getting grants for western Europeans (smaller territories particularly), Moody says there is an element of self-regulation. ‘media provides match-funding,’ she notes. ‘Producers in emerging markets don’t have the same access to funding as those in wealthier markets, which limits the number of projects coming through.’ And many don’t boast strong track records or good distribution links, other factors that win points.
One area Moody regards as unreserved good news is the E.C.’s desire to tackle issues raised by digitization. She also welcomes the fact that the Observatory, the E.C.’s research arm, is being more closely aligned with media, which should make it easier to mine the vast reservoir of market data it holds.
Small indies will still receive development support, but there will also be a strong emphasis on business, marketing and promo skills. This is a good thing, says Moody, because ‘media has become the main source of income for some companies. There’s a need to wean them off and help them grow.’
The continued financial bias towards distribution (cinema, TV, video, dvd and online) reflects the E.C.’s belief that a strong European distribution strategy is vital in the face of world competition. The new program will encourage investment in trans-national European works, as well as encouraging coordinated marketing strategies between distributors, sales agents, producers and exhibitors. In other words, there’s a presumption in favor of projects that view Europe as their home market rather than a specific country.
Perhaps the hardest thing for the E.C. to pull off will be its ambition for media to be both commercially and culturally effective. How will that line up against a target to increase the market share of Euro films distributed outside their country of origin from 11% to 20% by 2013? Or, to double the number of screens exhibiting European non-national films with emphasis on a young audience? Still, media’s move to the Information Society may signal a shift in thinking towards a more commercial strategy. But, in the world of Euro politics, nobody can really be sure.