France seeks a new-media way

TV execs call for biz revamp to account for Web clout

The need to overhaul film and TV regulations to absorb the impact of the Internet was a core topic during the weekend at the Dijon Film Forum.

The Gallic film industry's annual confab this year featured some heavy hitters from the French TV sector, which provides about half the financing for local cinema through a levy on revenue. A review of France's elaborate and highly regulated broadcasting rules to take into account burgeoning VOD and online piracy was central to their concerns.

"The whole system today has to be reviewed because of the arrival of the Internet," said Rodolphe Belmer, general director of pay TV group Canal Plus. With up to 15 million French homes connected to broadband Internet and about 2.5 million receiving television via ADSL, the possibilities to source content outside the traditional pay and free TV models are soaring, he said.

"We have to be extremely vigilant to protect the chronology of windows. How can I sell Canal Plus at €34 a month if the same films are available on VOD for €1? It's not a fantasy, it happened this summer. Pay-per-view on Canal Plus has more or less collapsed in the last year due to VOD and piracy," Belmer told an audience of about 350 industry representatives.

The sentiment was echoed by Nicolas de Tavernost, head of commercial network M6.

"The French think the Internet is a way to no longer apply the law. We need to revise the regulations quickly or else there won't be any free TV," de Tavernost said. The ad revenue levy imposed on TV channels should be extended to Internet companies, he said.

But while old-media operators were arguing for tightening regulations, others in Dijon were calling for a relaxation. "The current VOD window in France is 33 weeks (after theatrical release). That's much too late to attract customers. In the U.K., it's two months," said Dahlia Kownator, director of France's Association of ISPs.

MPAA president and COO Robert Pisano warned that in the fast-changing digital environment, if consumers don't find what they want legally "they will steal it." Hence the need to offer legal online content that can be monetized by rights-holders.

But Pisano cautioned that increased governmental regulation of the sector is not the answer. "Impediments to free consumer choice contribute to, rather than retard, piracy. The fewer governmental restrictions there are, the better off we'll be," he said.

The four-day forum, held for the second year in the Burgundy capital of Dijon in eastern France, is organized by the Society of Writers, Directors and Producers.