On May 15, the Swiss people will vote on the amendment of the film law. In particular, for the Federal Council and the Parliament, this amendment will make it possible to “enhance Swiss cinematographic creation and contribute to the cultural diversity of the digital offer”. The referendum committee, for its part, is against this project, in particular considers that this change will mainly “punish” films from around the world, while “the price of subscriptions will increase”.
Read: Where does the ‘Netflix Lex’ come from? Back to source
So what to do? To help you position yourself, the editors of “Le Temps” have offered to follow and participate in an online debate with:
† Alec von Barnekow† Computer scientist by profession, he is Vice-President of the Young Liberal-Radicals of Switzerland and President of the Young Liberal-Radicals of Friborg. He is against this amendment.
† Oleg Gafner† Festival director and administrative assistant, he is co-chair of the Young Greens and vice-chair of the Swiss Greens. He is in favor of this amendment.
This video chat was moderated by Nicolas Dufour, a journalist for “Le Temps”, specializing in particular in TV series. It is revived at the top of the article. A summary can also be read below.
Why tackle this project, which encourages platforms to invest in Swiss cinema?
Alec van Barnekow: This project is an injustice to consumers, whom we want to protect. It is up to them to choose what they want to consume and thus ultimately what they want to pay. We also protest against a law that protects special interests. That is, that of the cinema lobby.
Why force online platforms to invest in national audiovisual media?
Oleg Gafner: The platform will invest the money in its own projects, so we won’t limit your catalog. When you buy a subscription to these types of platforms, you buy a catalog that is constantly evolving and adapted to European standards. We want to give professionals in the sector in Switzerland access to these new tools. We do not protect the interests of individuals: the only cultural sector in Switzerland that depends on the Confederation is the cinema. We defend a cultural identity.
Read: According to the “Lex Netflix”, 30% European works? The streaming giants want to do it anyway
The government is already investing in audiovisual production in Switzerland. Why still looking for money?
Oleg Gafner: It’s not the same at all. These bodies want to support production to protect the interests of the public service. We are not talking about subsidizing a sector that needs subsidies. We are defending a law that costs the Swiss people nothing and that trickles down to the Swiss economy: 1 CHF invested in cinema in Switzerland yields 3.10 CHF for the local economy. It’s all profit.
The Swiss can already sell some films and series to these online platforms. Why not give them an extra boost?
Alec van Barnekow: It is an excellent case and it proves that this law is absolutely not necessary in the cinema to have the access keys. This referendum is absolutely not questioning the 120 million francs that the cinema will receive. We don’t want the consumer to go to the checkout because they are the ones who will pay this amount one day or another.
Do you have examples of countries where these platforms increased subscription prices when they needed to invest?
Alec van Barnekow: No, but you don’t have to do a HEC to know that it will be passed on to the consumer some day anyway. Netflix and the others don’t print money. Money doesn’t fall out of the sky. Someone will have to come to the register. And it will, as always, be the consumers who will pay.
Oleg Gafner: In European comparison, at least at the level of our French and Italian neighbors, the reinvestment rate is vastly higher than expected in Switzerland.
Finally, shouldn’t the French televisions present in Switzerland – TF1 and M6, which benefit from advertising revenues in Switzerland – also invest in national cinema?
Alec van Barnekow: Many companies earn money from customers in Switzerland when they are not present in the country and therefore do not pay tax here. Should they be taxed if we are the first to say that when our Swiss companies trade abroad they should above all not be taxed. All this is not consistent. In any case, this tax issue will soon be resolved with a 15% tax on all companies in the OECD.
Read: The Netflix law, “not a question of money, but of abundance”
The small regional televisions will also be forced with this investment commitment and the 30% audiovisual works. Isn’t that unfair?
Oleg Gafner: However, the law contains many safeguards, especially with regard to deductions, which can be made in particular on advertising costs. We are really talking about big foreign companies. I am pleased to hear that the PLR is pleased to tax foreign companies more heavily and to support more strongly the following message on culture and to accept the amendments strengthening this support. But as for the mechanism, we’re not on the tax, we’re on reinvestment.
Currently, our money is being used to produce Netflix series in France, Italy and even the United States. Why ultimately leave the money out of Switzerland when we could keep a little bit of it?
Alec van Barnekow: When you subscribe to a platform, be it Netflix or any other, you are convinced of the service it offers and you accept its price. And so you stick to an existing catalog. I always think it’s a bit of a shame that people come here to propose to adapt these catalogs by urging them to add Swiss productions. I am also convinced that if we pass this law on May 15, we will want to do the same for other sectors, such as music.
Oleg Gafner: In France, which is pushing platforms to invest, it’s interesting to see Netflix investing even more than it should.
Conventional television has limits of 50% European movies. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone…
Alec van Barnekow: This is not the subject of this referendum. With this law, we add a total arbitrary quota of 30%. It is protectionism, it has no reason to exist. If people subscribe to Netflix or Disney+ to watch US productions, it is their right to do so. European works are already sufficiently protected. Let’s draw a parallel: imagine if every restaurant had to impose 30% European dishes. Would you consider that normal? It is not for the legislators to come and impose what these platforms should offer on the menu of their catalogue.
Read: Strong uncertainty surrounding the “Lex Netlix”
These platforms are already investing a lot of their own in the countries. Why force them when you can do it with the market?
Oleg Gafner: The business model of these platforms is invest, buy. I come back to the catalogue, we share our catalog with neighboring countries that have the same language and they have this obligation of 30% of European films and production, for example France. So when you choose with your soul and conscience to pay for Netflix in French-speaking Switzerland, you already accept this 30%.
When I go to the cinema, I go to the movie that interests me. The share of American cinema is around 70%. The market is moving towards this law, right?
Alec van Barnekow: I don’t think so, because if that was really the goal, we wouldn’t have made it legal. 9.4% of the movies offered on streaming platforms are Swiss, but they represent only 0.4% of what people consume. This is proof that we want to encourage people to look at what they are not looking.
Oleg Gafner: This is to misunderstand the cinema. The cinema is divided into dozens of professions. This 4% allows Switzerland, in its various points of sale, to attune to and be part of co-productions in particular. That’s going to be the most important. One in two films released in Switzerland is a co-production. So we can shoot a film in Andorra, but single out a Swiss screenwriter with German funding. It will not be categorized as such, but it will meet that 4%.
Is this law vital to Swiss cinema?
Oleg Gafner: No, because Swiss cinema works without it. The aim is to provide a new tool, to align the practice of this profession with European standards, to make our professionals shine internationally and to prevent our talents from leaving the country. Switzerland also invests heavily in its education, our schools are excellent. We only ask for access to a competitive European market and the same tools used by our French-speaking partners.
Alec van Barnekow: I understand, but we also need to talk about consumers. Ultimately, they will be the losers of this law.
Read: Where does the ‘Netflix Lex’ come from? Back to source
Oleg Gafner: Countries that have imposed this mechanism have never seen an increase in subscriptions. The subscription prices of these platforms depend on purchasing power. We already have the most expensive subscription in Switzerland. And Netflix has already increased its subscription without this mechanism. So you have no facts to support this argument. It is proposed to consumers to have more diversity without paying more and to Swiss cinema to adapt to European practices.
Are we also supporting a sector economically with this law?
Alec van Barnekow: Economic circles are fighting against this law because it sets a precedent and protects special interests. And that’s exactly what a free economy doesn’t need.
However, within the PLR, your party, there is discussion…
Alec van Barnekow: As in any democratic party, there is debate and that is fine. Only three sections in Switzerland of the PLR are in favor of this law. Everyone else says no, it’s pretty big. We cannot speak of division in all cases.
If this law is passed, will Netflix be able to dictate its law by choosing the themes and types of movies to be made?
Oleg Gafner: Netflix can choose to purchase, promote, and co-produce movies. The platform will be able to choose freely according to its market. We talk a lot about the movie “Almost” with Alexandre Jollien and Bernard Campan. The few scenes shot in Lausanne for this film alone brought in nearly double the grant. So those are the economic benefits.