What is the state of European cinema exhibition
In the last 10 years, in the 15 countries that formed the European
Union up to 2004, there has been an overall increase in admissions.
In all, admissions have increased by about 50% for these countries,
rising from around 600 million to 900 million. If you want more detailed
information and more detailed percentages, you can have a look at
the “European Cinema Yearbook” .
This increase does not regard all countries to the same extent. There
are varying levels of growth. There is also a difference in the number
of tickets sold per capita. There are countries like Ireland, France
or Spain, that are above the European average per capita frequency,
which is around two and a half tickets per year. There are then the
countries that are below the European average, for example, Germany,
Italy and the Netherlands. It should also be remembered that the number
of tickets sold, and consequently the per capita frequency, may vary
greatly from year to year. The penetration impact of domestic films
is also affected by great variations.
There are countries in Europe where the market share of domestic movies
is quite substantial. This is the case mainly of France and also of
Italy and Denmark to a certain extent. There are countries like Germany
where the market share of domestic product can change substantially
according to the year. In the case of countries with weak domestic
production, the market share of domestic movies is usually quite low.
owever, it can be noticed almost everywhere that the presence of domestic
films with wide appeal has a highly positive influence on the overall
trends in cinema-going. In fact you can have a better year when there
is a very successful domestic movie. Just one movie can make the difference.
This also happens in the case of non-domestic European films.
There are certain years when two or three big pan-European successes
can make the difference almost everywhere. This was the case of the
1997 film, ‘La Vita è Bella’, (Life Is Beautiful),
which was circulated internationally in 1998.
There are times when two or three of those very important movies can
influence the market share in several countries. There are also countries
that have higher percentages of non-domestic European movies due to
their specific linguistic situation. Statistics in Belgium show that
they continuously have a high market share of non-domestic European
cinema. As in part of Belgium they speak French, French movies are
considered foreign movies in terms of statistics but play the role
of domestic movies there. Outside of the European Union, in Switzerland,
there is a similar situation. In fact, French films are perceived
as domestic movies for the French-speaking population; similarly,
Italian films in the Italian-speaking part of the country, and German
movies in the German-speaking one.
Do you consider that language and cultural identity have
an importance in cinema?
As we have just seen, language is very important to convey a sense
of familiarity or, instead, of foreignness. The cultural or historical
link within a specific country can play a very impor¬tant role
for the success of a film on any type of market, as proven by the
cases of ‘Names in Marble’ and ‘The Downfall’.
The former was very successful in Estonia, the latter in Germany;
but the German film succeeded in becoming a true international success.
In Norway in 2001, there was a movie ‘Cool and Crazy’
that didn't travel much abroad but was able to draw even the older
generations into Norwegian cinemas. This was because this film was
saying something about the life of Norwegian people in a very convincing
way. It was a tremendous success. This shows that movies that speak
the same language as the people and touch something that is part of
their culture are very successful, even if they are not broader European
What are the market shares for films in Europe?
On average, the market share of U.S. movies in Western Europe is about
70-78%. This number can vary quite a lot, according to the country,
the year, and especially in relation to the success of domestic and
European movies. Sometimes a small number of well known European or
domestic hits (or even just one) can change the situation.
Unfortunately, irregularity in product flow is one of the main problems
concerning European films. In fact, it's not possible to count on
a regular flow of European movies which have a certain success or
reach more than just one market. In a particular year several European
movies may be successful internationally, whilst the following year
it may prove impossible to repeat this situation.
Does this situation come from the concept that, in general,
European films are not ‘formula’ driven for European countries?
We could say that each European film is unique, so it is more difficult
to build on the success of a particular movie. Nobody can be 100 percent
certain of the success of a movie. If there were a long term strategy
that took into consideration the different needs and expectations
of the public, this could be of use. Every year the U.S. studios offer
comedies, thrillers, something for families and children; they tend
to offer a range of products that are attractive to different types
of audiences. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the European
The challenge is to offer a regular flow of products catering to different
needs and expectations. In my opinion, it is incorrect to say that
Europeans don't want to see European films. This is not true. Europeans
are definitely ready to see movies like ‘La Vita è Bella’.
The problem is that there should be an equivalent to it every year.
But does not another piece of this puzzle have to do with
European cinema marketing, distribution and exhibition?
European distribution and marketing are also two areas where more
development is needed. If you look at the number of prints of European
and domestic films, you realize that they only cover certain cinemas.
Thus, they cannot actually achieve broad distribution. Another challenge
has to do with marketing budgets. Although it's very difficult to
get precise information about marketing budgets, if you look at the
figures of the average marketing costs of Hollywood new feature films
(source MPAA: 34-35 million dollars in 2004), you see immediately
that the difference between those and European budgets is enormous.
Additionally, the Hollywood majors count on a well-articulated network
of distribution, whilst European cinema does not. This makes it very,
very difficult to compete.
Could the potential rollout of digital cinema change this
Technology by itself doesn't change these factors. It can offer a
chance, but this alone cannot be considered the solution. With digital
cinema, the distributor will be able to cut distribution costs and
the benefit of these reductions could go in different directions.
One direction could be to allow films that already have a lot of prints
circulating through traditional distribution to be distributed even
more aggressively and at a lower cost. This would clearly move in
the opposite direction to a variety of range in programming.
The other hypothesis is that digital technology may allow films that
would only come out with a few analogical prints to reach many more
screens. For example, the Danish film ‘Italian for Beginners’
was distributed in Germany on 19 screens in 2002. The average per
screen was about 10 thousand admissions, which is quite high. But
probably a distribution with a higher number of prints could have
boosted total admissions even higher. In cases like this, digital
technology would make it possible to respond more quickly and with
lower costs to the increase in demand by audiences. In fact ‘Italian
for Beginners’ had greater success than was forecasted by the
distributor. It would have been possible in a case like this to increase
the number of releases after seeing that the movie was better received
In my opinion, digital distribution and exhibition is a real possibility
for varying the offer to the public, but this is not something automatic.
There must be a strategy behind this, a transition enabling this.
Otherwise, I'm afraid that the new technology could benefit those
who already control the market. Digital cinema should result in better
film distribution and not in the limitation of the types of content
that make it to the screens.
Faced with the prospect of digital distribution, exhibitors raise
some key questions. If the distributors are going to save a lot of
money, why should the exhibitors cover the cost of much more expensive
equipment? Another area that is also important to address is that
of quality. Can exhibitors engage in a transition if they’re
not sure that the quality offered to their patrons will be better
than the quality they offer now? Is digital projection making piracy
easier or more difficult?
Another area to question would be that of market access. Is this technology
going to help exhibitors in becoming less dependent on traditional
distribution? In my opinion, this question is crucial for European
cinema if it is to benefit from this new technology. I believe that
it would be much more beneficial to cinema-going in general if there
were more competition and choice among products as well as among the
In a market where there is a limited number of players in the field
of distribution, even though the practice of block booking is not
allowed, it may prove difficult in practical terms for an exhibitor
to refuse to program a film that is not particularly promising if
this is part of the offer from a distributor who also offers titles
with wide appeal. In other words, in a market where there are many
cinemas and not so many distributors, it is clear that an exhibitor
who has to deal with five or six distributors cannot “quarrel”
too much with them.
In the cinema market, which is very much dependent on product and
where there is a small number of suppliers, the negotiating power
of exhibitors is sometimes quite limited. That’s why some exhibitors
are exploring the possibilities of adding alternative content to movies.
This could be a way both of offering more variety of choice to spectators
and of gaining more bargaining power with distributors.
This is a little far away, but, for example, there are those who can
imagine a situation where the exhibitor would be able to tell the
distributors that he may decide to present some programs of soccer
championships instead of showing a bad movie or something else. This
is just an example to show that exhibitors are thinking about the
new technology and future distribution possibilities.
Another crucial issue for the development of digital screening regards
standards and equipment specifications, security and other issues,
such as high image quality. These areas are sensitive in the exhibition
sector. On the one hand, it is evident that high levels of quality
and security are essential for making certain that digital screening
represents an improvement on analogical screening. On the other hand,
it is feared that these standards may be instrumental to retaining
control of screen access by the present market leaders. It is also
very risky to approve of European cinema being delivered at lower
quality than Hollywood movies.
The above issues are open questions. In my opinion technology alone
doesn't solve problems that are not only of a technical nature. The
participation of the many different parties involved will be very
important in coming years.
It is also important for the European Community to reflect on what
cinema means to society. Does it bring citizens freedom of information
and access to various sources and ways of expression? Is cinema simply
entertainment, or is it also a part of culture? Is profit the only
criteria to adopt in the cinema industry? And when we talk about market,
are we sure that in a situation where a limited number of competitors
have gained a much stronger position than others, there is room for
real variety of offer? Clearly, questions of cultural and social relevance
also come into play.
Could digital cinema technologies change the way cinemas -
large and small - are used?
Theoretically, yes. With digital technology, any cinema could potentially
show many different types of content. A theatre could, for instance,
feature music events and educational programs. If a cinema has a wider
variety of material, this could possibly allow for longer working
hours. The role of the cinema in smaller communities, too, could become
different. People might go to the cinema more in the morning –
for example, for educational initiatives such as distance learning
on university courses – and, if the cinema thus extended its
opening hours, they could then drop in to buy a sandwich. If there
were other content available that is not the standard one and a half
hours in length, but for example 40 minutes, this could be combined
with a quick lunch.
The goal of MEDIA Salles is to help inform exhibitors and train them
for the new technologies, their potential and relevant issues. One
of these ideas is to explore how digital technology can enrich a cinema’s
programming. This can have a social significance as well as a commercial
one for cinema owners. If there could be ways of keeping cinemas open
longer, expanding programming and content models, this would be very
Could this mean a kind of regeneration for cinemas?
Yes, it could contribute to regeneration, especially for dealing with
a scenario where the individual consumption of songs and images is
constantly on the increase. But it is just as clear that people will
always be willing to share experiences with other people. Therefore,
the new technologies must also place themselves at the service of
those who prefer going to an actual physical place, because it will
give them the possibility of sharing their feelings and emotions with
other people. Nothing can replace the communal experience of cinema-going.