Digital Single Market Divides European Film Industry

Opponents of the DSM argue it would make cross-over successes like Oscar winner 'Ida' impossible.

Executives at the Tallinn Festival's European Film Forum quarrel over whether dropping barriers to digital content will energize or kill the Euro film business.

The issue of the Digital Single Market sparked a heated, and polemic, discussion in the opening session of the European Film Forum, the two-day film industry conference held during Estonia's Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

Producers, directors, equity players and technology gurus tussled over the issues of the so-called DSM, which aims to create a borderless online market in Europe for the audio-visual industry. Depending on who you ask, the planned DSM will either destroy Europe's film industry by undermining the basis of copyright protection and territorial licensing or open up massive new markets for European filmmakers to access capital and reach new audiences with their movies.

Oscar-winning producer David Putnam (Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields), addressing the forum via a video link, noted the promise of a digital single market to "grow the audience for European films," but warned that without proper protections and regulatory structures, Europe risked "throwing the baby out with the bath water" and could, in its rush to tear down online borders, "make it even harder to make interesting European movies."

This mix of promise and fear was echoed by many others at the forum who welcome the potential of digital pan-European distribution but worry it could destroy the foundations of the Euro cinema industry. "We all have the same goals," said Pauline Durand-Vialle, CEO of the Federation of European Film Directors. "We aren't anti-digital or anti-technology." But she warned that the implementation of the DSM, as proposed by the European Commission, would mean cultural creators would get even less compensation for their work. The fear is that a digital single market across all European territories would make it impossible to protect copyright, which currently is regulated and policed by individual European member states.

This was echoed by Benoit Ginisty, director of the International Federation of Film Producers' Associations, who claimed that tearing down territorial boundaries online would most hurt small national distributors, who would be then unable to support indie films. He used the example of Pawel Pawlikowski's foreign-language Oscar winner Ida, a Polish film that did most of its box office in France because, Ginisty said, it had the backing of a national distributor who knew the local market. A pan-European distribution model, as implied by the DSM, would never work for such movies, he argued.

But there were those who see the DSM as an opportunity. Noting that few European films ever travel beyond their national borders, Lauri Kivinen, CEO of Finnish public broadcaster YLE, said a digital single market was "too big an opportunity to pass up" and that the benefits of a larger, pan-European market would make up for the disruption caused to traditional financing and distribution models. He was shouted down by members of the audience, who claimed the DSM would impoverish creatives and only benefit global tech players, such as Netflix, Apple and Amazon.

The debate over the digital single market will continue into day two of the conference, which will feature a fireside chat with Estonian politician Andrus Ansip, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Single Market and one of the DSM's biggest cheerleaders. Supporters and opponents of the digital single market idea look no closer to agreement than they were when the European Commission unveiled its plans to create the DSM six months ago. But at least, they're talking.