Indie producers in “desperate need of cash flow”, Cannes panel hears

Advertising revenue slump has also hurt broadcasters.

By Ben Dalton 24 Jun 2020

Indie producers in “desperate need of cash flow”, Cannes panel hears
The Covid-19 panel. Credit: European Audiovisual Observatory

Independent producers have a “desperate need of cash flow” to survive the coming months, a Cannes online panel about the European audiovisual sector during Covid-19 heard on Tuesday (June 23). 

“There is a desperate need for cash flow at the moment,” said Elena Lai, secretary general at CEPI, the European Audiovisual Production association. “Otherwise, a lot of small and medium enterprises will not survive in six months’ time.

“That is a crucial point for Europe to think about – the cultural diversity of the content we produce will be crucial and has been crucial in the past months. A lot of financing problems for these companies were already present before Covid – this should give you an estimate of their current situation.”

Financial struggles were echoed by Richard Burnley, director of legal and policy at the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of more than 100 public service media organisations including the UK’s BBC and ITV, Germany’s ZDF, and France Médias Monde.

“In terms of advertising revenues – a massive slump,” he said. “It’s very important to keep sustainable funding and public funding for service media as we move forwards and as the shockwaves come out from this crisis.

“There’s been a number of challenges in terms of simply keeping content on screens, while you can’t make new productions, and live events are being cancelled,” he continued. “Going into the future, as a lot of revenues will swing to the large online globals, cost of rights and content may go up. These are challenges that we face.”

Unregulated, unaccountable

Grégoire Polad, director general at the Association of Commercial Television in Europe, said the shutdown has widened the gap between small and large companies.

“If anything, the pandemic has exacerbated this imbalance – and the need for a level playing field,” he said. “We’ve never seen power concentrated in the hands of so few unregulated and unaccountable players.” Polad said the effect was “drying up the creative ecosystem and treating culture like a commodity.”

“We want to ensure Europeans can continue to enjoy rich media pluralism, and cultural diversity,” he said. “We also want quality and professional news rather than the rampant disinformation echo chambers and hate speech, which are the trademark of social networks.”

Polad offered several solutions to improve the situation. “It means pro-competitive structural changes in the digital sphere. We want to ensure content creators have fair access to data thus enabling the vast revenues generated by digital advertising to be reinjected. We want liability rules that ensure your creative industries rights are upheld online. And finally, we want liberalisation measures to allow broadcasters continue playing their essential role in their investments in high quality local and national news and jobs.”

Lai called for courage from European politicians and institutions, on a continental and national level. “Now is the moment to be bold - not to forget the role culture and creative industries have, because we have provided great entertainment during this Covid crisis.”

The discussion was preceded by a 25-minute video about the effects of Covid-19 on the audiovisual industries in Europe, featuring comment from several of the 10 speakers on the panel. It was directed by Alejandro Cabrera and written by his brother Francisco J. Cabrera, and produced by the European Audiovisual Observatory, which hosted the panel.

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