France’s Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak told a film industry gathering on Thursday that new windowing rules, which came into force in February, were already retrograde in the fast-changing film, TV and streaming landscape, and need to be updated rapidly.
“Thanks to your precious work and a long consultation, we managed to come up with a new media chronology, but it has already been impacted by the decisions of certain actors, or rather the wishes of certain actors who want to see it evolve more rapidly,” said Abdul Malak.
“We need to collectively reflect on that… to see if an evolution of this chronology can reinforce the interests of the entire (cinema) chain,” she continued.
France’s notoriously strict release windows legislation underwent a radical overhaul after hard-fought, decade-long negotiations between all the main stakeholders in the local film and TV industries.
Under the new framework, most of the global platforms including Disney and Amazon are subject to a 17-month gap between the theatrical and online release of a feature film, while Netflix has negotiated a 15-month window in return for extra investment in local movies. Prior to the new rules, the window was 36 months.
Less than a year into its existence, however, the legislation is coming under pressure again with U.S. studios and platforms lobbying for a further shortening of the streaming window. The legislation included a one-year review clause which they hope will open the door for modifications.
Disney has been publicly leading the campaign for further adjustments.
In June, the studio announced it was skipping the theatrical release of Strange World in France to put it directly on Disney Plus, as a result of the chronology rules.
Rumors were also rife that it was mulling a direct-to-digital release in France for Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever but the studio ultimately maintained the theatrical release, following “acknowledgement from the French government that the Media Chronology needs to be modernized”.
In Thursday’s address, Abdul Malak said the current chronology rules did not make sense if they resulted in movie theaters being deprived of “big films.”
“That defeats the original aim of the chronology which was to give value to the theatrical experience. A slow progression of the evolution of the chronology is counterproductive and will end-up punishing the movie theaters,” she said.
The minister noted that discussions on the media chronology rules with all the different stakeholders in the French film and TV industries had begun on October 4, with a hope that from around January/February “we could have a new route, on which we can exchange, taking the time, in any case. It’s not too early for habits to change quickly; the world is advancing very fast and if we drag our feet, we will be the losers,” she said. “We need to anticipate and work together to move this chronology.”
Abdul Malak was speaking at the directors’ guild ARP’s annual film industry confab, running November 2-4 in the northern French beach resort of Le Touquet.
On eve of her conference address, Abdul Malak appeared to suggest in a radio interview that she felt the platforms had a legitimate right to ask for shorter windows, especially given they were now being obliged by law to invest at least 20% of their local revenues in European film and TV content, under France’s so-called SMAD decree.
The media chronology looks set to remain a thorny and divisive issue for the French film industry.
Speaking during an earlier panel on cultural sovereignty, Canal Plus and Studiocanal President Maxime Saada was fiercely critical of the new-look chronology, even though his group, as the biggest investor in French cinema, has managed to reduce its window to six months for films it finances.
“I was recently in Los Angeles to see the various studio bosses. We are really perceived as the worst country in the world in this area because we restrict them far too much,” he said.
“There is really this strong perception from Los Angeles of a France which is arduous from this point of view… I think it was commendable to bring the platforms into the system, but I think it was very badly done, very badly designed and cinema pays the consequences.”
The new media chronology laws are intertwined with the SMAD decree, in that the investment obligations, and the signing of an agreement pledging to honor these obligations, are also used as a lever to shorten or lengthen the window.
He suggested that the mechanism of setting investment obligations in return for shorter windows had resulted in “laughable” and “insignificant” investment from most of the streaming platforms aside from Netflix. “The two-month gap between signatories and non-signatories is the best incentive not to sign. I consider it miraculous that Netflix signed this deal…”
He added, “One day it’s going to happen, Disney will be integrated into the system and Amazon will be integrated in the system and then voilà… At what point does the desire to integrate them into the system make us flip to a total dependence on the financing of our oeuvres by American funds, and what danger for creativity tomorrow?”