One of the biggest challenges facing independent production around the world is how, coming out of pandemic, streaming finance and state funding can be made to mesh in new regulatory terms.
Nowhere currently is this issue proving more fraught than in Spain, as it attempts to transpose into national law Europe’s celebrated Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which can oblige global streamers to invest in a country’s national production, as has happened in France and will be case in Spain.
Currently, Spain’s draft law requires networks and local and global platforms to plow 5% of annual revenues into European titles, 3.5% off that in works from independent Spanish producers, of which 2% are accounted for by movies and 1.5% by films.
Loud alarm bells rang, however, when its industry bodies discovered a last-minute change to Spain’s draft General Audiovisual Communication Law, now in consideration in Spain’s Congress, which affects the definition of an independent producer.
Prior phrasing, pacted with trade associations, dubbed producers independent if they did not depend on “a” service provider – read platforms or networks. That “a,” has now be modified to “said” – allowing producers owned by providers – Buendía Estudios, Telecinco Cinema, for example – to produce for streaming platforms, and have those films and series termed independent productions, qualifying if films for state subsidies.
That’s an Armageddon scenario, Spain’s independent producers argue. It encourages global streamers and Spain’s highly dominant broadcast groups to produce with each other, squeezing out true independents.
In a rare show of unanimity, Spain’s independent producers have closed ranks, reacting with “astonishment” to the word change, said a joint statement on May 18 issued by PATE, Spain’s most powerful producers body, and Spain’s Audiovisual Platform of Independent Producers (PAP), an umbrella industry platform grouping 17 trade bodies.
Spain’s independent producers are also suprised by another draft Law amendment which also contemplates independent producers’ work for hire for platforms – titles which they produce but do not own – as part of quota qualifying investment, said PATE director general José Nevado.
Hostilities have flared, ironically, just over a year since in March 2021 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a Spain AVS Hub plan with a total €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) budget for 2021-25, aimed at attracting big foreign productions to Spain and powering up Spanish production.
Now, the amendment “can mean the end of a flourishing and supposedly strategic industry for the country.” “Spain’s independent producers create and produce most of the series, movies and programs in Spain.” Their “viability” and “the cultural sector connected” to them, “all the talent, creativity and jobs pivoting around our companies,” are now “at grave risk,” stated a joint PAP, PATE press release.
“Suddenly the obligation to invest [in national production] recommended by the E.U. Audiovisual Media Services Directive can be met producing with other providers obliged to invest,” observed María Luisa Gutiérrez, producer and CEO at Bowfinger International, one of Spain’s biggest independent producers. “Spain’s independent production is at the edge of an abyss.”
The Paris-based European Producers Club, grouping 170 producers in 31 countries in Europe and Canada, has rallied to Spain’s independent producers’ cause.
“The EPC strongly rejects the technical amendment introduced to the Spanish transposition of the AVMS directive. That amendment contradicts the purpose of the regulation and ends up supporting media (networks and platforms) owned companies to the detriment of real independent producers,” the EPC announced in a statement read out by “Alcarràs” producer María Zamora on Monday morning at the Marché du Film.
The statement added: “The EPC supports independent producers and strongly believes the AVMS directive is designed to protect the independent ecosystem in Europe. This is the spirit of the directive and key for healthy mechanisms that allow diversity, creativity and entrepreneurship all across the European continent.”
Owned by Mediaset España, Telecinco Cinema’s business model over the last 23 years has been to produce movies with independent producers for significant theatrical release. Backed by Movistar Plus, the pay TV-SVOD arm of Telefonica, and network group Atresmedia, Buendía Estudios is currently ramping up production.
Netflix’s most recent big Spanish movie hits, currently ranking No. 2 and No. 4 in the streamer’s global non-English language film charts, are “The Perfect Family” and “Honeymoon With My Mother.” They were produced respectively by LaZona Producciones and Atresmedia Cine and Morena Films and The Film Lab which are mostly bigger independents.
What independents fear is that the new Law, with the amendments in place, would see platforms courting some of Spain’s biggest conglom-backed producers to make movies – another seismic shunt in production.
Can the amendments be amended? There’s very little time. Congress will vote on Thursday. The government is under pressure to get Spain’s draft law onto the statute books or risk a multi-million Euro fine from the European Commission.
So there’s little visibility about how this could play out – which could be said about the future of Europe’s film industry at large.