The two last years have witnessed a hot debate in France on whether the current French audiovisual policy has had a positive or a negative impact on the attractiveness (rayonnement) of French culture. Insiders from the cinema industry have strongly challenged the official view that the French policy has been successful. The vested interests have reacted by arguing that the “cultural” industries are very big—meaning “too big to fail”, hence implying that the current policy cannot be changed. This debate remains largely unknown outside France.
The paper examines these various claims. First, it shows that the alleged “bigness” of the French cultural sector is based on dubious or wrong methodologies: a too wide coverage of too heterogeneous sectors, the use of wrong and misleading indicators. A fair estimate shows that, once corrected, the alleged size of Euro 75 billions boils down to Euro 10 billion, at most. Second, the paper addresses the question of the efficiency of the French policy—the basic question raised by the insiders. Based on recent and official figures, it shows that, in 2011, the subsidy rates are 30 and 100 percent in cinema and TV-channels, respectively. Moreover, subsidies (in constant euros) have increased by 30-40 to more than 70 percent since 2000 whereas the attractiveness of the French culture has been stagnant (cinema) or declining (TV-channels). In short, the paper provides an unambiguous support to the insiders’ criticisms.
The paper does not suggest reforms—this difficult task is left for a forthcoming paper. But, it provides a few markers to keep in mind. First, such a massive failure should have been expected (indeed it was) for good reasons based on human nature and economics. Second, it should make French policy-makers humble—that is, eager to look at lessons to be drawn from success elsewhere in the world, Korea being by far the best case. Third, the host of tight regulations linking French TV and cinema should be progressively but resolutely relaxed—if not, French TV-channels may collapse.
Last but not least, instead of being feared, the internet-based technology should be seen as a golden opportunity to rebounce. For instance, a firm like Netflix should be seen as a “bridge”: on the one hand, a challenging importer of foreign series and movies into France; on the other hand, one of the very few efficient potential exporters of French movies and TV-works to the rest of the world that will allow creative and energetic French film-makers to shift as quickly as possible their funding sources away from drying up public subsidies and from under siege French TV-channels towards a booming and much more diverse world demand.