Amid COVID-19 Crisis, French Cinema Body Gets Right to Collapse Release Windows

Courtesy of SND
French political biopic 'De Gaulle' was in theaters less than a week before the coronavirus pandemic shut down cinemas.

Dominique Boutonnat, president of the CNC, said decisions on windowing would be made on a case-by-case basis and would only be “for the duration of the epidemic.”

France has loosened its notoriously strict policy on release windows amid the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the French government passed a temporary measure allowing national cinema body the CNC to unilaterally shorten the VOD windows for films that were on release as cinemas across the country shut down following the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

France’s regulations require a four-month window between theatrical release and a premium VOD or home entertainment bow for films that draw more than 100,000 cinema admissions (roughly equivalent to a box office of $700,000) and a three-month window for releases with fewer than 100,000 admissions.

But as part of a bill passed Friday, the CNC will be able to shorten the VOD windows for films on release before the government put the country in lockdown on March 14, shuttering France's nearly 6,000 screens nationwide.

There were some 60 films on release in the country at the time, including U.S. studio titles like Disney/Pixar's Onward and Universal's The Invisible Man, as well as French titles including Martin Provost's comedy How to Be a Good Wife and Gabriel Le Bomin's political biopic De Gaulle.

“In exceptional times, we must provide exceptional responses and demonstrate innovation as much as responsibility,” Dominique Boutonnat, president of the CNC, said in a statement.

Boutonnat said decisions on windowing would be made on a case-by-case basis and would only be “for the duration of the epidemic.”

Rights holders will have to apply directly to have the VOD window shortened. The CNC added that each individual case would be decided “in full consultation with representatives of the sector and in particular the professional organizations of cinema operators.”

The measure was voted in on the same day that Europe’s International Union of Cinemas, which represents the major theater chains across the continent, put out a statement warning against breaking the theatrical window during the coronavirus crisis.

The National Federation of French Cinema, which had lobbied against the move, on Friday released a statement acknowledging that the film industry was facing exceptional challenges. French cinema owners fear the COVID-19 crisis, and the national cinema shutdown, could be used to further collapse theatrical windows and damage their business.

The entire French movie industry is built on the theatrical model. The government levies a tax on each theater ticket, money that is used to fund French films. The strict release windows are seen as necessary to preserve and protect the cinemas from online competition.

But with theaters shut down, cinemas are facing bankruptcy and distributors are unable to generate any revenue from films for which they have already invested upfront marketing.

“The closing of cinemas is a critical moment for the whole industry,” Boutonnat said. “The public must be able to access films, but we also need to ensure the fundamental balances which make it possible to finance creation in the medium and long term, as well as the resumption of activity when the rooms reopen.”

The new proposals do not change the windowing rules for streaming services. Films that are released theatrically in France still have to wait 36 months, or three full years, before they can be made available on SVOD platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime.