Magazine article Screen International

After the Cannes/Netflix Row, What Next for France's Strict Media Window Laws?

Magazine article Screen International

After the Cannes/Netflix Row, What Next for France's Strict Media Window Laws?

Article excerpt

Reform of France’s media window laws has divided the country’s cinema industry.

‘Okja’ screened in Competition at Cannes in 2017.

Streaming giant Netflix’s public spat with Cannes Film Festival over the latter’s decision to reinstate a rule demanding films in Competition be available for theatrical distribution in France hit the headlines worldwide in April.

The move meant that Alfonso Cuaron missed out on a shot at the Palme d’Or with his 1970s Mexico City-set family drama Roma, backed by Net­flix, having initially been promised a place in Competition.

The media portrayed the standoff as a clash of two titans, one old, the other new, but the reality was that both parties were caught in a situation beyond their control, linked to France’s strict media window laws. As an SVoD player at the end of the media chronology chain, Netflix would have been obliged to delay the release of Roma in France - where it has an estimated 3.4 million subscribers - for a full three years had it agreed to play it in theatres.

Cannes Film Festival delegate general Thierry Frémaux also had his hands tied, having nearly lost his job in 2017 after he invited Netflix titles Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) to Competition in the 70th edition, provoking the ire of France’s powerful exhibition lobby.

Ongoing debate

It was the latest chapter in the country’s increasingly fraught discussion around how it should reform its media window legislation to fit the realities of the digital age. Last updated in 2009 - a year before Netflix started rolling out its then-fledgling streaming service internationally - the current system imposes a four-month gap between a theatrical release of a feature film and its availability via transactional VoD, in line with most other European nations. There is a 10-12-month delay for broadcast on Canal Plus, due to the pay-TV giant’s role as one of the key financiers of French and European cinema; a 22-24-month window for free-to-air channels; and a 36-month gap for distribution on an SVoD platform.

Supporters of the scheme champion it as a lynchpin of France’s vibrant cinema industry. Detractors dismiss it as an anachronism, holding innovative local players back and encouraging piracy as frustrated consumers seek content on illegal platforms. …

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