TV Sales in Europe : the end of film exploitation as we know it by Birgit Heidsiek

Due to the acquisition stop of various European TV stations, even very successful European art house distributors are facing a difficult situation. The circumstances are quite similar in the different parts of Europe. „We still try to sell our films to the national television and if I make a statement about how impossible it is, than they are not going to buy anything from us ever“, says a distributor who prefers to remain anonymous

In Germany, TV buyers such as Degeto Film, the acquisition arm of public broadcaster ARD, don‘t pick up art house films anymore. They even pass on Oscar or Golden Bear winners. „The main TV stations stopped buying films two years ago“, reported Ira von Gienanth, Managing Director for Licensing & Acquisition at German arthouse distributor Prokino, at the EFM Industry Debates in Berlin. „Until 2017 they don‘t have any slots for art house films.“ This mischief generated a wave of protest among the independent distributors in Germany. In the beginning of 2012 a group of 24 distributors expressed their concerns in an open letter which was addressed to the heads at ARD/ Degeto Film.

A key issue is that with the theatrical release – which includes the positioning, publicity, marketing and dubbing – the distributors provide the basis for a successful release of national and international films on television. „The acquisition and P & A costs went up in the last couple of years and can hardly be financed without sales to television anymore. The acquisition stop is an existential threat for the independent distributors“, stated the group of independent German distributors. If films such as Brokeback Mountain, La Vie en Rose, Tree of Life or Volver can‘t be released theatrically in Germany anymore due to the new acquisition politics, it concerns not only the TV viewers who are missing a community experience because the whole exploitation chain is endangered. „It will affect not only the distributors but also the cinemas, PR and marketing agencies, dubbing studios, labs and other parts of this smoothly running wheelwork.“

Acquisition stops and shrinking TV sales are not an exception but almost the rule. „In Portugal, in the past few years the public channel has been showing less independent and art house movies than before. Right now, they are on hold and not buying at all“, reports Hugo Lopes, director of the distribution company Alambique. „Everybody expect prices to fall when they start buying again. Competition amongst distributors to sell their rights is strong because the business model needs TV to recoup and the public channel’s budget is very tight.”

Even in economically wealthy countries such as Norway the market is changing. „I have been in a lucky situation in Norway so far but it seems it is getting much harder to sell a film to free TV“, says Svend Jensen, CEO of the distribution outfit Arthaus. When the public broadcaster NRK started the culture channel NRK P2, they took most of the films he offered them over a course of several years. Meanwhile he distributor has been told that the TV station bought too many films and many of them have not been broadcasted yet. „Feature films are no prime time products anymore. Their priority is entertainment and series“, says the art house distributor. „They are thinking only about bigger titles. It is very hard to get our kind of films out there.“

The sales to TV are important in order to finance the theatrical distribution. „We don‘t buy films just to have them out on DVD, VOD and TV“, emphasizes Svend Jensen. „We get so little money back from those windows that we are not using so much time in trying to get out there with our titles. We really have to try to find some solutions that make even our less popular titles being available. Sometimes we have to think about VOD as well. As long as theatrical is so strong for us, it is still our main focus. This is what we can do and what we are good at.

„What has happened in television in Scandinavia and most of Europe is that because of the digitization of television you have a lot more channels than you had before“, elucidates

Timo T. Lathinen, CEO Smile Entertainment. „That means they need more programmes in hours but don‘t use anymore money for acquiring the programme. So you get paid less for your film or TV series.“ The bottom line is that a distributor doesn‘t get the same amount as he used to ten years ago. „At the same time you have more channels. So you have more opportunities to sell your film but you get less for your film“, explains the Scandinavian distribution expert.

In general, the trend is going towards non-exclusive deals. „The normal business model is still exclusive but it is becoming more and more like that. Most VOD deals are non-exclusive and the windows are becoming less exact“, outlines Timo T. Lathinen. „Before you had a pay TV window and then a free TV window. Now you have a second pay TV window and your streaming windows. That means it is getting more complicated. You have to do a lot more work for the same revenue that you got before from one deal. Now you have to make five deals to get the same money.“.

„We used to buy more films“, admits Aleksandra Biernacka who acquires film for TVP Telewizja Polska. „Internet is changing a lot the whole market und this changes have a huge impact on all of us in the industry on many different layers.“ 20 years ago the public Polish broadcaster had only four channels. „Today we have eight different channels“, acknowledges Aleksandra Biernacka

„The channels are more specialized, the audience is smaller so you cannot pay as much as for a big channel.“ The consequence is clear: „The distributors get less money.“

In Italy, the TV stations are acquiring only a few independent films. „The pay TV channels buy more but only for little money“, says Raffaella Di Giulio, sales representative of Fandango. It rarely happens that art house movies are shown in the prime time. So far, she sees no possibility for the distributors to fill this gap. „VOD is too undeveloped.“

Even in the model country Switzerland series become more important for the broadcasters. „We have fewer and fewer slots for art house films, and much less in the prime time“, explicates Carola Stern, acquisition manager at Swiss distributor Filmcoopi. „In the last couple of years there were various restructurings, realignments and budget cuts at Swiss TV which even resulted in an acquisition stop for half a year.“ Due to the three language regions in Switzerland, the markets are so small that the budgets for TV licences are limited. „Nevertheless a TV sale helps to reduce the risk, especially for sophisticated movies that find only a small audience. If we are distributing a film such as the Berlinale winner A Child’s Pose we know in advance that the revenues won‘t cover the guarantee and P & A. Without any TV sale and MEDIA support we can‘t afford it to release a film like this.“