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‘Swiss cinema doesn’t need more money to succeed’

© Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Swiss cinema should not be seeking its salvation in the new Netflix law, says Virginie Cavalli, the co-president of the centrist young Liberal Greens. She argues the proposal is unhelpful and damaging for consumers. 

This content was published on May 4, 2022 - 09:00

The youth factions of right-wing parties oppose the proposed amendment to the cinema law that comes before voters on May 15. They are concerned that fees for streaming platforms will spiral as a result and say they don’t want to be told what to watch. 

The new law, dubbed “Lex Netflix”, aims to compel companies like Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ to invest at least 4% of their gross local revenue in the Swiss film industry each year. In addition, at least 30% of their programming will have to consist of European productions. 

Nearly half of all European states have already taken similar measures. France, notably, has introduced an obligation for streaming platforms to reinvest 26% of revenue into the domestic film industry – in Italy, it’s 20%. 

To learn more about what’s at stake in the vote on the new cinema law, see our explainer:  

Those in favour of the new law say it will guarantee a measure of diversity in the product range of online services. But Cavalli, a member of the referendum committee, believes that Swiss cinema should try to be more democratic instead of demanding more financial support. 

swissinfo.ch: National and regional television channels are already obliged to invest 4% of their revenue into Swiss cinema production. Shouldn’t streaming platforms be subject to the same obligation in order to ensure equal treatment? 

Virginie Cavalli: No, because these are very different service providers. Providers who don’t invest 4% of their revenue into Swiss cinema will have to pay a replacement fee. In my view, the big streaming platforms would pay this fee instead of investing in our film production and will pass the costs on to consumers. 

In addition, the new law discriminates against private Swiss TV channels. Until now, they’ve been able to count ads for Swiss cinema as investments. In the future, this will only be possible in a limited way. So they will have to reinvest in Swiss film production while their own productions, which don’t benefit from the [radio and television] licence fee, are not subsidised and will suffer. 

People in countries where an obligation to invest has already been introduced pay less for streaming subscriptions than the Swiss. Doesn’t this offer you some reassurance in terms of the law’s repercussions for consumers? 

Someone always has to pay in the end. Small platforms will simply abandon the Swiss market because they won’t be able to the supplementary costs. As for international platforms, they will of course be forced to recoup their supplementary costs from Swiss consumers, who have significant purchasing power. These companies are pragmatic. 

Shouldn’t we instead see the new law as an opportunity to raise the profile of our film production around the world? 

There have already been successful Swiss films that didn’t need additional money in order to gain audiences beyond our borders. Swiss cinema is already generously subsidised by public authorities – to the tune of more than CHF100 million ($103 million) a year. 

Nearly half of all European countries have already opted for investment obligations. In Portugal, the amount is just 1%, but in Italy it goes up to 20% and in France, to 26%. Shouldn’t Switzerland be following the trend, in order to avoid a situation where revenue from streaming platforms is simply invested abroad? 

It’s difficult to make international comparisons. For example, we can’t really compare the French film market with the Swiss market. Swiss films are primarily art films that only appeal to a niche audience, and that is not the case in France. So we can’t apply the same system.  

In Switzerland, this law serves special interests instead of the broader public. In 2019, before the pandemic, only two Swiss films made ticket sales of more than 100,000. There is a problem with democratising content. Swiss cinema struggles to find an audience. 

The new law also aims to ensure that at least 30% of the content shown on streaming services is produced in Switzerland or Europe, as is already the case in European Union countries. Won’t Switzerland be isolated if it doesn’t impose similar measures? 

This requirement won’t necessarily have an impact on the biggest platforms because they already have the structures to apply this measure. They will simply face additional bureaucracy and higher costs. But small video-on-demand services offering specialised content will be penalised. We risk losing some diversity. Let’s take for example platforms specialised in manga or Indian cinema or even pornographic films. They will also be subject to this law and will find it difficult to comply. 

In a multicultural, globalised Switzerland, it’s problematic to favour Swiss and European productions. This quota discriminates against film producers from non-EU countries and is an act of isolationism. 

This quota, however, is an EU condition for Switzerland’s reintegration into Creative EuropeExternal link, the European Commission’s programme to support the culture and audio-visual sectors. Do you not see a need to allow Swiss cinema to collaborate with neighbouring countries? 

It’s not the first time that Switzerland has questioned whether it should adopt European norms, and we do have a say here. On financial matters, Switzerland is generally more liberal than its neighbours. 

Translated from French by Catherine Hickley

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