Netflix has just announced that it has crossed the 200 million subscriber mark. The figure is unverifiable (1), but the movement of traditional forms of consumption of films and documentaries from cinemas to platforms is real: all have generated peaks in subscriptions (150 million for Amazon, 85 for Disney Plus …) During the past year, in the midst of a pandemic. In France, according to a study by the National Center for Cinema and Animated Image (CNC) in November 2020, 49.6% of households subscribe to Netflix, 24% to Amazon Prime and 18.6% to Disney Plus, ahead of by the Canal Plus platform, 21%. Certainly, the Covid-19 has accelerated the seclusion of spectators in front of their tablet. But is it for all that the death of cinema looming? The reality is more nuanced.
The temple of cinema opens its doors to the wolf
The “great Satan” is Netflix, the one through whom evil happened. For the public, it is the first to have programmed films exclusively – even if one of our interlocutors reminded us that, although an essential partner of French cinema, Canal Plus had done so in the past, and continues. This approach, in France, is enough to make you cough, because the financing of French creation is intimately linked to what is called the chronology of the media. A film is first released in theaters, exploited six months later (a period which can be reduced to four, according to the emergency law of March 23, 2020) in video on demand, DVD and Blu-ray media. The first period is essential, since part of the ticket price is donated to the creators via Sacem (copyright) and to the CNC to allow the emergence of new projects. By short-circuiting this process, Netflix and other newcomers to the cinema market paid little heed to the “French cultural exception”.
Last week, the temple of French cinema opened its doors wide to the “wolf”: the Cinémathèque entered into a partnership with Netflix for the renovation of the Napoleon, by Abel Gance. A major work of French cinema in the hands of merchants? “The patrons did not jostle each other”, Justifies Joïakim Tuil, head of communication at Netflix France. “We are the ones who went to convince them to do this extremely strong and unique act in the world”, abounds Jean-Christophe Mikhaïloff, head of external relations at the Cinémathèque. The place, who works “Indifferently with Warner, Gaumont or Studio Canal”, has already occasionally offered events with the American giant: “Collaboration with Netflix can be very valuable because they have the means, privileged relationships with many great filmmakers and they can accompany us to bring them to France. “
A way to calm the environment? In any case, a signal from “Good will to integrate into the ecosystem of French cinema”, explains Mikhailoff. For the number one platform, it is ” a symbol “. That of investment “Long term in French cinema”. Proof of this particular attention for the country which invented cinema, Netflix did not hesitate to establish an office in Paris for long. And puts forward his will to have “A positive role in the local ecosystem”. In fact, the position “Glocal” (a global player, local realities), of which the film historian Laurent Creton speaks, has already been translated into action. The giant has, for example, bought “world” broadcasting rights for French films from Gaumont. Those from Simply black, for example : ” a case “, explains this executive, who wishes to remain anonymous. Certainly there has been “Negotiation” on the theatrical release, to which the dean of cinema was attached, but “The chronology has been respected”. And if Netflix had not acquired these rights, the film by Jean-Pascal Zadi “Would not have affected so many territories. In the United States, no one would have rushed to buy it ”. In the end, its wide distribution, in addition to the fact that it made it possible to earn more money to reinvest in future projects of the same kind, is a way of promoting French creation. This is also what Jean-Christophe Mikhaïloff recognizes, seeming to regret that there is “No dissemination clause” of Napoleon restored: “If one day this work is shown on Netflix, it will never have been seen by so many people around the world. “
“Guarantee the balance between French broadcasters and platforms”
Take advantage of the financial power of a multinational far from philanthropy to support a virtuous system? Even the “Traditionalists” quote those of Brassens (2): “Instead of aiming at some vague enemy, it is better to wait a little while to be changed into a friend. “ We are not there yet, but the locomotives in the sector would like to clarify the status of American platforms, in order to make them “Players in the sector in the same way as television channels”, with the same rights and the same duties, who “Subsidize and distribute works of cinema while respecting French specificities”, we say at Gaumont. To do this, much is expected from the AVMS (Audiovisual Media Services) Directive. Signed in the Council of Ministers on December 21, 2020, but not yet applied, it should “Guaranteeing a balance between French broadcasters and global platforms”, by forcing them to pay between 20 and 25% of their turnover in France for the benefit of the “Preservation of heritage works” and of “Independent productions”. Behind the scenes, it is said that rebalancing the balance between all cinema funders would avoid the hegemony of the Canal Plus group alone …
In the existing panel of new entrants to the market, some have longer teeth than others. Disney Plus is only fourth on the French market (third for the number of videos on demand, but by combining the number of users of Canal Plus Séries and Canal VOD, the French group is ahead of it), but is pursuing an aggressive policy. in defiance of local specificities. The media timeline, Disney does not know. “Like Warner, they don’t care, considers a connoisseur of the environment. They control the chain from start to finish, from creation to distribution… ” Worse than the repurchase of rights on its own platform, the big-eared firm has downright put down the system by announcing that it will no longer broadcast its films in theaters. She did, for the first Christmas without Disney in decades. The animated feature film Drunk, yet selected in Cannes, then broadcast at the Lumière Festival in Lyon (despite the reluctance of the profession), was broadcast on Disney Plus, ” not allowed ” to non-subscribers. Much to the chagrin of professionals, many of whom say it is “The best film of 2020” : it was necessary “See it on the big screen”.
It would therefore not be the passage on platforms that will “Kill the cinema”, in the words of Denis Villeneuve, but the confiscation of creative works. The Quebec filmmaker is very upset: in contract with Warner Bros. for his remake of Dune, he learned that the studio would broadcast it (along with 16 other films in 2021) simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max platform, in defiance of the signed contract which ensured a priority passage in theaters. This would only be a trivial financial transaction for AT&T, the telecommunications group (in deficit of more than 150 billion dollars) which bought WarnerMedia in 2016, and did not “Absolutely no love for the cinema, nor for the public”, he believes in a column published in the American magazine Variety. He has received the support of “house” directors, such as Christopher Nolan, who plans to leave the studio with which he has worked since 2002, and the production company Legendary (holder of the cinema rights to DC Comics), regular partner of Warner, which could be such as to make them flex – a little. However, Villeneuve, like some of his French cousins, ensures that “Streaming services are a positive and powerful addition to the cinema and television ecosystem”.But, he adds, “Streaming alone cannot support the film industry as we knew it before Covid-19” …Like him, hundreds of creators, screenwriters, directors, musicians, but also actors and technicians are stuck between the love of their profession and the need to live from it.