The financing of Swiss cinema by the streaming giants is played out at the ballot box

Representatives of young liberal-radicals, young UDC and young liberal greens are sending 65,000 signatures to the referendum against the new cinema law on 20 January 2021 in Bern. © Keystone / Peter Schneider

Should Netflix, Disney or Amazon invest in the production of Swiss films and series? On May 15, the people will take a stand on new commitments aimed at online audiovisual giants.

This content was published on March 29, 2022 – 10:17 AM

What is it about?

On the menu for the federal polls on May 15 is an amendment to the federal law on culture and film production. Nicknamed “Lex Netflix”, this project seeks to force streaming platforms to fund the creation of Swiss movies and series up to 4% of their revenue achieved in the country.

Why tax streaming platforms?

In Switzerland, television broadcasters of national television programs or intended for linguistic regions are already required to invest 4% of their turnover in Swiss film production. They must also offer 50% of series and films produced in Switzerland or Europe.

With the development of online viewing platforms, the government wants to expand these commitments. The project is primarily aimed at streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, HBO or Disney. The aim is to further support Swiss film production and eliminate the unequal treatment between TV channels and online services.

What does the revision of the law provide?

Streaming platforms must invest 4% of their turnover in Switzerland in the production of Swiss films and series. If they do not, they will have to pay a similar tax in favor of promoting Swiss films. This rule also applies to foreign television channels broadcasting advertisements aimed at the Swiss public.

These new commitments were to make it possible to pay an additional 18 million francs each year for local film production, according to Confederate estimates.External link. This money is intended for films, documentaries or series produced by independent Swiss companies as well as international co-productions with Swiss participation.

The financial support allocated to independent audiovisual creation today amounts to approx. 105 million francs a year. 39 million come from public authorities, 36 million from Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SSR), 6 million from private TV channels and the rest from private funds.

The new law also stipulates that streaming services must broadcast at least 30% of the content produced in Switzerland or Europe.

What are other European countries doing?

Nearly half of European states have introduced an obligation for streaming platforms to invest in local or European film production. The turnover in question varies from country to country: 1% in Portugal, 2% in Denmark, 5% in Spain, 20% in Italy or 26% in France. A few states like Germany, Belgium or Croatia charge a tax that is paid to film promotion institutions. This is generally added to the investment obligation.

The European Union (EU) also forces online services to offer 30% European productions. Some countries have introduced a higher quota or a sub-quota for the broadcasting of national works. In addition, streaming platforms active in the EU are required to highlight European series and films.

Who started the referendum?

The youth of the right-wing parties are stepping up to oppose this new law. Referendum CommitteeExternal link brings together young people PLR ​​(Liberal-Radical Party / liberal right), UDC (Center Democratic Union / conservative right) and PVL (Liberal Greens / center). It is supported by the German-speaking Swiss consumer organization (Konsumentenforum) as well as by the association of private television stations (Telesuisse).

Referendums believe that Swiss audiovisual production is already sufficiently subsidized and that it does not need further assistance from private companies. They are convinced that the investments imposed on streaming platforms are an attack on financial freedom and that they will increase the price of subscriptions. Ultimately, it is the consumers who have to put their hands in their wallets, warns the committee.

Young people on the right also condemn the quota of 30% of European productions imposed on streaming platforms that are not based on quality requirements and discriminate against other creations. This obligation harms diversity and goes against the freedom of users, they write in their argument.

The referendums have the support of the two major right-wing parties: the UDC opposed this amendment to the film law in one block during the debate in parliament, and the PLR ​​is calling on its supporters to reject the project on 15 May.

Who is campaigning for the new law?

The Folketing voted overwhelmingly in favor of the government’s draft. If the elected representatives of the PLR ​​were split, the Socialists (PS, left), the Greens (ecologists, left) as well as the Liberal Greens and Center approved the new rules. They believe that equal treatment is needed between national TV channels and online services.

Parliamentarians noted that the taxes and investment commitments introduced in other European countries had not caused an increase in the cost of subscriptions. Forcing streaming platforms to reintroduce 4% of their revenue to Swiss production should also provide an opportunity for new players to emerge in this area.

The elected representatives emphasized that the obligation to broadcast 30% of European creations guarantees a certain diversity in the provision of online services. This quota is also a requirement of the EU, so that Switzerland can rejoin the European cultural support program “Creative Europe”.

Individuals and associations active in the Swiss audiovisual sectorExternal link advocate a revision of the law. They believe that the new initiatives will benefit the Swiss economy as a whole: It will be possible to establish more ambitious projects that create jobs, increase admissions and thus offer a showcase for local companies.

The audiovisual industry also indicates that streaming platforms are free to invest as they see fit, whether in the production, the script or the technical aspects. She recalls that the business model of these TV companies is precisely to buy or co-produce films and series around the world.

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