France calls for legal review targeting Netflix

Netflix's arrival in France has prompted the French president to call for a review on laws and taxing after local cable operators grumbled over the threat posed by the American video service.

France calls for legal review targeting Netflix
France's president has called for a legal review that could hurt Netflix. Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande has called for a review of European laws on audiovisual services, as local operators bristle over the recent arrival of US online streaming giant Netflix.

"France will shortly send its proposals to the new Commission so that we can have the same rules" for everyone, Hollande told the audiovisual council late Thursday.

"Digital companies based outside of Europe must be subject to the same tax treatment as traditional operators because they are broadcasting on the same premises," he said.

Netflix arrived on French screens two weeks ago to great fanfare from excited viewers, and chagrin from local broadcasters who fear an unequal battle with the California-based company which already has 50 million subscribers worldwide.

Netflix does not give subscription figures for individual countries but Le Figaro daily estimates some 100,000 French have already signed up. However as the first month is free, they could cancel their contract at any time.

Hollande took aim at "tax inequality" and those who "base themselves at a distance but broadcast here without having the same obligations", without naming Netflix directly.

With its European headquarters based in Luxembourg, and set to move to The Netherlands in 201, Netflix escapes hefty French taxes.

"France will propose that the idea of virtual establishment be preferred to that of permanent establishment" to avoid tax evasion, said Hollande. "Operators in the same market must be able to evolve within a common and coherent framework."

For €7.99 ($10.34)a month French subscribers can now binge on Hollywood films, cartoons and television series.

Netflix is also commissioning a French-language political drama — a tale of power, corruption and revenge set in the port city of Marseille, France's second city.

Netflix's entry into the French market is the beginning of its second wave of expansion across Europe. It is to be quickly followed by launches in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The service has been available in Britain, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden since 2012.

Many European providers have improved their offers or dropped their prices ahead of Netflix's arrival, and France's main pay-TV group Canal+ has beefed up its online streaming offer, CanalPlay.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


No Marseille-bashing in French ‘House of Cards’

Where "House of Cards" portrays Washington DC as a diabolical den of wheeling and dealing, Netflix's new drama set in France, "Marseille", promises brutal local politics but no cliches in a city widely seen as crime-ridden and seamy.

No Marseille-bashing in French 'House of Cards'
The seedy side of Marseille is the setting for the French House of Cards. Photo: Jeanne Menj/Flickr

But two of the Frenchmen behind the new series to be shown late this year by the US streaming operator, screenwriter Dan Franck and producer Pascal Breton, say they have done their best to avoid perpetuating cliches.

"Those expecting Kalashnikovs will be disappointed," warned Breton in an interview with AFP, referring to the weapon of choice of Marseille's criminals to settle scores and keep police at bay. "It's out of the question to do any Marseille-bashing," Franck said.

Even though the eight episodes set in the southern coastal city, France's second-biggest after Paris, will delve into its dark underworld — made famous in the 1971 Hollywood movie "The French Connection" — the lead characters do not include any police officers.

Indeed, the city itself looms largest.

"We chose Marseille because it's a city with an absolutely incredible personalty," said Franck, sitting with Breton in a bar overlooking Marseille's colourful historic port.

"The ghettos are a character. The politicians are characters. That's what interests us, it's not about standing up or tearing down Marseille's image.

Human passions are strong everywhere, and they are even stronger in a Mediterranean city — a city like Marseille, that is bigger than life, as the Americans say," Breton added.

Focus on power struggle

The focus of the show is Marseille's city hall, and a power struggle between the veteran mayor and a young, hungry politician looking to usurp him.

All of it is set within a Mediterranean city hosting gangs, ghettos, African and Muslim immigrants, and history dating back to the time of the Greeks.

"It's mainly a conflict between two characters, two forms of political morality, two generations fighting over the same turf," Franck said.

He said he was welcomed everywhere he went to research the story, from the municipal offices to mosques, to criminal kingpins.

"I met some real characters," he said. The organised crime bosses he met, he added, were overjoyed that "people outside their milieu… listened to them".

As in "House of Cards", politics is at the centre of "Marseille".

But while the American show  — itself based on a British book that was made into a BBC drama of the same title — is all about national politics, the story in "Marseille" stays local.

Breton however explained that "15 years of French political life" have served as inspiration for the series.

That period would notably include racial tensions in French society and numerous scandals.

But "it's a story that is completely made up," Franck stressed.

"In 'House of Cards' there was cynicism. And in 'Marseille' there is cunning. It's not at all the same. Cunning is human. Cynicism is robotic," he added.

Breton chimed in by emphasising the "passion" in French politics. "In the United States, it's a sort of moral posture, it's almost religious when it comes to politics… But we don't look for a god, we're more looking for a king."

'Theatre facing the sea'

The producer said he sold Netflix on the possibility of making Marseille the backdrop of the show, rather than Paris, by describing how much it was like "a big theatre facing the sea".

While the French-language series will be available in all the countries where Netflix operates, it will serve a special role in France itself, both men predicted.

"You don't see a lot about how French democracy functions on French TV," Breton said. "It's rather difficult to make it spectacular, dramatic, even tragic."

But the fact that Shakespearian struggles of power are now back in fashion — with no small thanks to "House of Cards" — means "Marseille" has "space to make its mark," he said. "It's up to us to not fall short."