THE EXHIBITION OF EUROPEAN FILMS REVISITED
by Dr. Joachim Ph. Wolff - 1999

Remarkable developments
 
Probably many of the younger persons working within the film industry will think it almost unbelievable, but after an almost continuous decline from the end of the forties on, admissions to US films in West Europe reached an unprecedented nadir in 1973. In France, a country with a strong feature film production, the total market share of all US films was 19.8% in that year, whilst in a country with only a small national production like the Netherlands, it was not more than 30.5%.
 
After this low point market shares of US films increased, also almost continuously, to the high levels we have now. From the early eighties on admissions decreased considerably in West Europe. This went on until about 1990, whereafter admissions were rising again, be it in a modest way.
 
Quite remarkable is, that the sharp decrease of admissions was caused almost solely by the diminishing successes of European films, especially outside their countries of origin, whilst admissions to US films remained more or less stable. This is shown in Table 1.
 
Table 1 Indices of total admissions, resp. admissions to US films (1983 = 100)
 

 
France
the Netherlands
Denmark
total
admissions
Admissions to
US films
total
admissions
admissions to
US films
total
admissions
admissions to
US films
1983
100
100
100
100
100
100
1984
96
102
82
96
86
.
1985
88
99
76
110
82
90
1986
85
105
74
112
83
95
1987
69
86
77
95
83
87
1988
63
82
74
110
72
82
1989
61
97
78
113
75
88
1990
62
101
73
119
70
97

Source: M. Gyory and G. Glas, "Statistics of the Film Industry in Europe" (the European Centre for Research and Information on Films and Television, Brussels, 1992) ,
calculated from the figures on pages 55, 61, 97, 110, 205 and 212.
* For the other West European countries the statistical data is insufficient to make these calculations.
 
 
Consequences of this development
 
It may be clear that this development considerably changed the situation of film exhibition in Europe: besides the success of domestic films, the trading results of the exhibitors were and still are mainly dependent on the success of US films, which also changed their market position vice versa the distributors of the US majors.
 
Support of European films
 
The weak position of European film production caused numerous measures of support for especially national production in many European countries, and from the end of the eighties on, also by the European Union. The latter support, concerning an amount of money being about 10% of the total support in Member States, nevertheless comes down to a considerable sum. However, this support is not for production itself, but increasingly for the distribution of non domestic European films.
 
During the Festival of Cannes in May 1999 the head of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union observed that, regrettably, market shares of non domestic European films had decreased generally from 1997 to 1998. This is shown in Table 2.
 
At the same time it was announced that in MEDIA III still more European money will be used in support of the distribution of non domestic European films.
 
Table 2 Market shares (based on admissions) of non domestic European films (%)
 

 
1997
1998
B
13.4
22.1
CH*
21.0
21.7
D
11.5
5.7
DK
13.1
9.1
E
17.6
8.4
F
10.0
7.2
I
15.9
10.8
NL
10.5
4.1
S
14.9
8.8
Total
13.4
8.7

Source: European Cinema Yearbook (Media Salles,1998) and European Cinema Journal (Media Salles, no.1-April 1999)
* Not participating in the MEDIA Programme.
 
The development of admissions to non domestic European films and their resp. market shares are shown in Table 3.
 
Table 3 Indices of market shares, resp. of admissions to non domestic European films (1992 = 100)
 

  1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
B market share

admissions

100

100

85

99

84

108

108

125

56

72

69

93

115

173

CH market share

admissions

100

100

77

89

56

66

83

89

84

92

73

82

75

86

D market share

admissions

100

100

55

68

105

132

82

97

144

180

185

251

92

129

DK market share

admissions

100

100

153

181

203

242

218

222

450

515

385

483

268

341

E market share

admissions

100

100

77

81

128

139

109

121

89

112

133

170

64

83

F market share

admissions

100

100

94

107

185

199

179

201

132

156

213

273

153

225

I market share

admissions

100

100

87

97

77

91

82

89

88

101

112

131

76

113

NL market share

admissions

100

100

163

190

237

277

250

300

120

147

350

485

137

201

S market share

admissions

100

100

.

.

249

252

215

204

225

221

281

273

166

168

* Source: same as for Table 2
 
What becomes clear in Table 3, is that the development of admissions to (non domestic) European films is less unfavourable than the development of the corresponding market shares. This means that box office from non domestic European films is more stable be it on a level that is judged as being too low than the corresponding market shares. This is, of course, caused by the fact that these market shares to a high degree are dependent of the success of US films.
 
This is still more clearly demonstrated in Table 4: from 1992 to 1998 admissions to non domestic European films increased by 27%, whilst market shares even decreased (by 10%). Understandably however, it are just the market shares that get attention and matter politically.
 
Table 4 Indices of admissions to all films, resp. to non domestic European films and their market shares (adm.); 1992 = 100, resp. 1989 = 100 (without Sweden)
 

 
1989
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
all films
102

100

100

98

114

112

115

113

113

110

121

118

127

125

141

138

non domestic European films
150

100

100

67

90

60

125

84

119

79

124

83

176

118

127

85

market shares

 

142

100

100

69

78

54

108

74

103

71

102

70

137

94

90

62

A last remark concerns the comparison with 1989, when the MEDIA Programme began. From 1989 to 1998 admissions to non domestic European films decreased by 15%, whilst their market shares even with 38%!