The current situation
At the national level, like the European, admissions become concentrated
around an increasingly restricted number of films - some countries have
witnessed the near-doubling of the percentage of admissions for the Top
Twenty films. On the other hand, the total number of films distributed
has considerably diminished during the course of the past few decades,
and amongst them, the number of second-run films have declined spectacularly
as a result of the electronic distribution channels, particularly video.
On a European level, it is no exaggeration to say that distributors
are no longer interested in "old" films, out for more than a year or indeed
six months, and that cinemas which previously specialised in this type
of scheduling are disappearing. This phenomenon has been particularly noticeable
in some countries, such as Denmark, where the number of films distributed
each year has fallen to 40% of the 1984 level, and where almost all the
fall in volume is attributable to the decline of second-run films.
It is appropriate to wonder whether, in the context of this change
in releases, veering towards first-run films which, in a number of countries
are increasingly of US origin, is healthy for the exhibition sector: in
this context, it is interesting to observe that the US exhibition market
retains a large number of second-run cinemas; these show a choice of films
at reduced prices after they have been released as first-run and before
(indeed in some cases at the same time as) they go out on video.
The scheduling policies changed with modifications in the distributors'
marketing strategy. They are moving in the direction of applying a strategy
of releasing mainly American "blockbusters", which are only shown for a
short period of time. The life cycle of films in the cinema is considerably
reduced, changing from around 2 years at the beginning of the 1980s to
less than 6 months nowadays. This increasing recourse to policies of "intensive
scheduling" reinforces to an extent the position of the distributors, especially
where screens are plentiful. Accordingly, the distribution sector is still
more integrated than the exhibition industry, and is marked by a much stronger
presence at the European level of the US majors.
Table 29: Number of films programmed
|2 screen complexes
|3-5 screen complexes
|6-7 screen complexes
|Complexes with more than 8 screens
|Source: MEDIA Salles/BIPE Conseil
The nationality of programmed
In the course of the last two decades, a rapid growth of the US films'
market share has been witnessed, in terms of numbers of admissions to European
cinemas: in France, the country least affected by this phenomenon, US films
recorded 20% of admissions in 1973 and almost 60% in 1992! (see table
This progression was mainly at the expense of European films, particularly
non-national films; during the same period, the share of admissions for
European films effectively slumped. In 1992, the European average in terms
of market share of admissions showed US films at 74%, European films (national
and non-national) at 24% and the rest of the world at 2% in terms of total
numbers of admissions.
Part of this massive transfer of admissions to US films is tied to
the changes in releases: in some countries, the number of national films
decreased, becoming almost marginal, but films from across the Atlantic
also gained market share in countries like France, where national production
is still important. The market share of US films is also linked to the
intensive release technique known as "American".
In line with the pattern of intensive marketing, US films with considerable
potential benefit from a high number of prints released simultaneously
in a national market (400 prints in France, 500, or even 600 in Germany,
against, in the larger countries, only about a 100 prints of a European
film with relatively good potential)(6) which
gives them an overwhelming advantage in the admissions stakes. Investment
in advertising and promotion are maximised, allowing the majority of national
admissions to be achieved over a period of one or two weeks.
(6) with few exceptions
France stands out from the other European countries, with the lowest
admission rate to films coming from the other side of the Atlantic, well
ahead of the other European countries. This result must be principally
due to the well made French films, which retain at the present time 35%
of admissions, or almost twice the European average. National films also
maintain an honourable level in the United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark.
In countries where the operation of the cinema production industry is very
small, it is completely marginalised (Portugal, Greece, Belgium etc.).
In all cases, the decline in admissions is less a consequence of the greater
influence of US films than a decline in European films.
Table 30: Nationality of Programmed Films
US Films' share of admissions
European films' share of admissions
Of which national films
Art-houses' share of screens
Art-houses' share of admissions
|EU Weighted Average
|Source: MEDIA Salles, London Economics, BIPE
In the majority of countries where the nationality of films shown in
cinemas is not subject to regulation (everywhere except Spain) the share
of European films, not including the national films, comes between 2 and
6% of the total number of admissions. Italy, Belgium and Portugal are the
exception to this. The importance of the non-national European film in
Belgium and Portugal has to be put in parallel with the almost total absence
of national films at the box office. European films which do not benefit
from the same distribution strategies as the North American films are rapidly
marginalised, and removed from the hoardings (few prints, therefore few
cinemas, low promotional budgets and, as we have described in more detail,
absence of dubbed versions). This low performance by European films is
linked to the disappearance of European films with wide public appeal.
Spain clearly stands apart from other countries when it comes to the
market share of admissions for European films: its total share of European
films is high (about 22%, making it the third country after France). However,
over 12% of total admissions are linked to showing non-national European
films, a result almost twice the European average. One cannot help but
see in this result the direct effect of the Spanish exhibition quota, which
oblige operators to schedule European films one day in every three. The
quota badly received by the exhibition industry, benefits non-national
European films the most, because the small number of Spanish films produced
does not allow the national film to consolidate the share of admissions
which, for example, a French film achieves in its own territory.
The quota brings with it many unintended effects, particularly that
of limiting the profitability of cinemas. A wilful strategy on quotas may
have the side-effect of a deterioration of profitability for exhibitors.
This effect drove the Spanish exhibitors to take strike action against
the measures in December 1993.
The subtitling and dubbing of films
The survey confirms that in relation to this issue, there are two categories
of European countries:
those who systematically subtitle films made in a foreign language: this
is the case for most of the smaller countries, particularly in North Europe
All this affects the large majority of US films in non-English speaking
countries. It seems, however, that neither dubbing nor subtitling changes
the attitude of the public in relation to the film's nationality.
those who systematically dub films with wide public appeal, even if they
are released in some cinemas in their original version, and where only
art-house and experimental films go out in a subtitled version (this is
the case in France, Italy, Spain and Germany, and, to a lesser extent,
The cinema audience of continental Europe is very different in this
respect from the US one, for who, in cinemas as well as through the electronic
media, a subtitled film (or one which has a soundtrack with regional accents)
is automatically categorised, as a result of this criterion, as art-house
(as the general public there is not at all accustomed to the soundtrack
being at variance with the picture, they are therefore very resistant to
dubbing, and that excludes European films from the main exhibition circuits).
A comparable process is at work, to the detriment of non-dubbed firms,
in the European countries mentioned above who practise dubbing; the audience
there is not used to "consuming" subtitled feature films. For economic
reasons, it does not pay to have a subtitled film (vital to satisfy audiences
loyal to European and art-house films) and a dubbed version in order to
offer the major circuits a film with wider appeal; the production of two
versions is only economically justified by a very large number of prints.
This technical problem combines with the limited power and the low
level of internationalisation of European distributors to isolate the majority
of non-national European films from the mass distribution channels, particularly
in Germany, France and Italy, in spite of the various subsidies granted
them by national governments or the EU. By targeting niche markets national
producers seem to have cut themselves off from the general public, who
are left to watch only American films.
Programming strategies by type of exhibitor
Generally, few exhibitors, and among them, even less of the independent
cinema owners, have the opportunity to develop a proper programming "strategy".
Globally, for circuits as well as amongst the independents, programming
policy is very dependent on relationships with distributors, and on the
number of prints in the market place. To all intents and purposes, cinema
programming at a national level is carried out by the distributors, who
control the distribution plan by giving a film priority screening at cinemas
of their choice.
Exhibition has little influence over cinema programming (outside Art
and Experimental). In general there is little difference between the programming
of the circuits and that of the independents, although some factors are
different (particularly that more films from the rest of the world are
shown at independent cinemas). The programming of municipal cinemas and
associates stands out, at the EU level, from the other categories of exhibitor:
the percentage of national films they programme is appreciably higher than
the average for all exhibitors (20.5%); that is also the case for the percentage
of films coming from the rest of the world (5% for municipal cinemas against
1.85% for the networks).
This analysis is confirmed by comparing two other criteria (see Fig
the percentage of all screens operated and programmed by independents,
who choose their own programmes, and
There is no positive or linear correlation between these two indicators:
countries where independently-programmed cinemas are most numerous do not
turn out to be countries where European films fare best. This conclusion
runs a little contrary to the hypothesis that independent exhibition favours
European films. There is every indication that independent exhibition cannot
be easily distinguished from the circuits' programming strategy. The independents
are also looking for films with high potential, and to minimise their programme
the admission statistics for European film.
The survey revealed that the task of programming a cinema is especially
complex when it involves a single-screen, and when this cinema is run by
the local authority: if we look at numbers of different films programmed
per year, a complex with 8 screens only shows twice as many different films
a year as the average single-screen cinema (65 films per year); while a
network cinema only programmes 80 films a year, a municipal cinema schedules
130. This is because single-screen cinemas have to be sure of a very varied
programme so as to avoid boring their customers, particularly in less competitive
customer areas, and because art-houses, which tend to be single-screen
cinemas, opt more often than others for a repertory programme, which increases
the number of film shown per screen per year.
The number of films programmed in these cinemas multiplies the amount
of negotiations with suppliers for cinemas which are responsible for their
own programming; it obliges them to vary to whom they talk.
This runs contrary to the programming strategy of the multiplexes and
their impact on the rest of the sector. As we have seen, the principal
multiplex operators carry out a policy of optimising their investment by
programming the maximum number of showings a day per screen, and parallel
to this, the increase in screens per complex allows them to simplify their
programming to usually show only one film per screen per week. They tend
to opt primarily for films with a high potential, which are principally
American and less often national. This also drives them rapidly to remove
from their screens films with less potential; these are only on view for
a short time, and rarely therefore have time to build up word-of-mouth,
which is so crucial to the success of an independent film.
One therefore has good reason to believe that, in spite of their orientation
towards a policy of supplying "all products", the multiplexes' impact on
the various different exhibition markets will still work to increase the
degree of concentration of admissions and on a small number of films, unless
it is balanced by policy measures to diversify programming.
Art-house and Experimental
In some countries, the concept of "Art-house and Experimental cinemas"
is not officially defined (Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium etc.). It
then becomes a practical definition; the exhibitors who programme films
which are not generally chosen by the main circuits are grouped together
as "Art-house and experimental". In Greece, one can say that the concept
of Art and Experimental cinema does not even exist in fact. In most other
countries, the definition of an Art and Experimental cinema (or "art-house")
is more precise, in the sense that it is often, as in France, a condition
for allocation of subsidies.
In these countries, giving a cinema art-house status is principally
a question of its programming. In order to be classified as Art and Experimental,
the majority of the cinema's programming must be of Art and Experimental
films. But the definition of an art-house or experimental film is itself
variable according to the country:
on the one hand, defined according to the types of films which appear in
According to the CNC in France, art-house and experimental films have
the following characteristics: "films possessing incontestable qualities,
but not having achieved the audience they merit, films having a much sought
after character or novelty in the cinematographic domain, films reflecting
the life of a country whose film products are not often distributed in
France, re-releases which have artistic or historic interest, particularly
those considered as "cinema classics", short films which refresh the cinema-going
experience by their quality; [...] recent films which have received critical
acclaim and public approval, and which can be considered as making an important
contribution to cinematographic art; amateur films of exceptional character".
on the other hand, defined according to the method of classifying films
known as art-house and experimental as the same; this, despite definitions,
will of course be arbitrary.
The programming threshold of this type of film which is necessary in order
to classify a cinema as "Art-house and Experimental" also varies according
to country. In France, an art-house and experimental cinema must programme
between 35% and 75% of films which are classified as art-house and experimental.
In Spain, a cinema only has to show un-dubbed films classified as art-house
and experimental for between 25 and 100 consecutive days to belong to this
The notion of art-house and experimental is extremely variable, and
would merit analysis beyond the scope of this overview. Bearing such reservations
in mind, the number screens varies widely according to country. There are
about 500 each in Germany and in France, more than 300 in Italy, 80 in
the UK and 48 in the Netherlands. Everywhere else, the sector is less than
20 screens. The sector represents about 15% of screens in France and Germany,
10% in Italy and the Netherlands, and less than 5% in the other European
Table 31: Art-house cinemas
Definition of "art and experimental"
A & E cinemas
As a % of all screens
Number of admissions to the A & E cinemas
||No official definition
||13 - 18 screens (6 - 10 cinemas)
||530,000 - 650,000
||3.12% to 4.1%
||Definition by CNC: cinemas classified as A&E
must programme 35-75% A&E films
||Defined by the Federation (Programkino)
||In practice cinemas showing films not distributed
by the leading networks
||3 in Dublin +
25 film societies in the provinces
||Cinemas scheduling films of artistic, cultural
and technical interest, or coming from countries whose films are lesser
||Defined by the Dutch CICAE: films with little
||No official definition
||Defined by the ICCA: theatres showing 25-100
consecutive days of films in original language version
||According to official definition: 0
100 showing original language version films
Repertory: Yellow List (BFI)
|1. Of which 300 consider themselves to be A&E.
Source: MEDIA Salles/BIPE Conseil
The percentage of admissions achieved by these cinemas is very varied.
They attract a sixth of the admissions in France and Germany. Elsewhere
their number of admissions represents between 3 and 10% of the total admissions.
In spite of their marginalisation in many European countries, art-house
cinemas attract a dedicated audience, fond of old films and small audience
films. This is why, in certain European countries, the rate of cinema-going
is higher than that observed in the industry -in general. The causes of
the relatively buoyancy of a sector known for its elitism and the weak
commercial potential of its programming are, without doubt, complex, but
one cannot ignore the fact that the art-house sector is the only sub-group
of the exhibition sector which has an identity of its own. These cinemas
are not only distinguished by a more subsidised economy, but also by well-targeted
programming, by having worked at building up a public committed to the
cinemas, and by a group of distributors with whom these cinemas have regular
and privileged relationships.
It should be noted, however, that in all the countries cited, access
to art-house and experimental films is often the privilege of those living
in the capital (especially in smaller countries), where almost all the
cinemas which belong to this category are concentrated.
The changes in cinema programming strategy in the various countries
studied have brought us, in every case, to consideration of the impact
of the industry's structures and of the main players in distribution.The
distributors effectively control the programming of European cinemas. This
sector is both more integrated than cinema exhibition at a European level,
and more dominated by the subsidiaries of the US majors or the companies
which distribute their products. The absence of any real, common programming
strategy amongst European exhibitors taken as a whole plays into the hands
of the US distributors with their plans to release profitable films and
distribute them through all the available media.
A certain number of factors contribute to reinforcing the American
films' ascendancy and their dominance over admissions: particularly the
shifting of screens throughout Europe into multi-screen complexes, structures
which are not receptive to the non-national European film. The only group
of exhibitors who appear to follow a specific programming strategy are
those concentrated in the sector known as art-house and experimental. The
status of this sector is very varied in different parts of Europe, as its
survival, at least in parts, depends on policies of public subsidies.