The European film industry has little influence on the world stage
these days. So last week’s news that Polygram’s film division,
responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Mr Bean, was being sold
to Seagram was met with dismay. Horror of horrors - the last bastion of
European films falling into the clutches of a US alcohol
But help was at hand from the French pay TV group, Canal Plus, which
proposed a consortium to buy the company. Seagram is not particularly
interested in films; it really wants to get its hands on Polygram’s
prestigious music division. The point of the deal in fact was to win
Polygram’s big names - such as Elton John, Sheryl Crow and the Bee Gees
- for Seagram’s smaller operation, Universal Music.
Seagram’s sale of the film side of the business to Canal Plus would at
once solve two problems. It would generate finance for the music
acquisition while making sure no Hollywood companies could get their
hands on Europe’s top film-making company. However, like most media
deals, it was born of ambition not altruism.
Rupert Murdoch may be king of subscriber-based TV in the UK, but in
Europe Canal Plus is by far the largest pay TV company with tentacles in
Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia and the Benelux countries as well as
its home market of France. Like Murdoch’s empire, the potential for
growth is rosy. But unlike Murdoch’s operations, Canal Plus does not
produce much of its own programming.
Murdoch makes most of the goods he sells to the public in his own
factories - such as programmes for Sky Sports or films from Fox - and
then delivers them through his own channels or sales outlets. Canal
Plus, on the other hand, has all the distribution outlets in place but
very little self-made programming. Canal Plus took a long time to
realise that it is easier to build delivery systems than make programmes
to fill them.
But it is making up for lost time - and Polygram could be the key to
successful film production.