In Europe, Some Film/TV Industries Tweak Release Windows

The film industries in Italy, France and Spain — European countries the hardest hit by the coronavirus — are enduring tough times, with the postponement of dozens of film releases. More worrisome is the future prospects of theaters in markets where indie distributors already contend with the dominance of U.S. content. In France, for example, Hollywood movies accounted for 59 percent of its 213 million theater admissions in 2019. One potential solution is to stream or air indie films on-demand.

Variety reports that, in Europe, changing theatrical release schedules can be tough. In France, “which has Europe’s strictest release window policy and the most powerful lobby of exhibitors … under the existing release windows, movies that have been pre-bought by TV channels must debut in theaters first in order to benefit from TV financing, and can launch on transactional VOD no earlier than four months after that.”

France’s CNC (National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image) is currently in talks with the guilds to “bypass cinemas and debut on transactional VOD.” Although most everyone in the industry seemed to embrace these temporary changes, some exhibitors were enraged when culture minister Franck Riester and CNC “announced unilaterally that all films that were in theaters as of March 14 could be released immediately on pay VOD.”

Distributors there are choosing different paths; Shellac will release its film “Monsieur Deligny” straight to VOD, but Memento Films Distribution, which spent $1+ million in P&A on “How To Be A Good Wife” four days before the theaters shut down, is planning a second theatrical release when they reopen.

“This crisis is unprecedented and more violent than anything we’ve had before because it doesn’t only slow down economic sectors — it stops their activity altogether,” said film/TV financing institution Natixis Coficiné honorary president Didier Duverger. “If it lasts 30 to 45 days, it will be okay, but beyond that, there will be casualties.”

The French government unveiled a $23.9 million plan “to help cultural industries,” and the National Film Board allows companies to postpone social security payments and offers loans and options for repaying credit.

In Italy, “where box office was down 70 percent the week before theaters shut down,” motion picture association Anica is looking into a variety of options to mitigate the losses. Anica president Francesco Rutelli is “negotiating agreements with platforms including Netflix to find a ‘new balance’ [by which] exhibitors would be compensated for the time they are forced to stay shut.”

At Italy’s TV producers’ association APA, head Giancarlo Leone reported the damage is “at $108 million for the television production business.” On March 16, Italy’s culture minister introduced “a $145 million aid package to help exhibitors, distributors and producers.”

Spain doesn’t have the same strict release windows as the other two countries, and “the government is also considering abolishing the requirement for Spanish films to bow in local theaters in order to trigger state subsidies worth up to around $1.1 million per title.” According to Pilar Benito, president of the country’s Asociación Estatal de Cine, “losses to Spain’s film and TV sector are calculated to be at around $165 million to $220 million.”