4.2 Programming
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 in 1992
Annual Average
Single-screen cinemas
2 screen complexes
3-5 screen complexes
6-7 screen complexes
Complexes with more than 8 screens
All Screens
Source: MEDIA Salles/BIPE Conseil
 The nationality of programmed films
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 no. 30).
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 Conseil
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: 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.
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 no. 25): 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 risks.



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

  • The cinemas

    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:  
    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".
      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 category.
    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 countries.
     Table 31: Art-house cinemas
    Definition of "art and experimental"
    Number of
    A & E cinemas
    As a % of all screens
    Number of admissions to the A & E cinemas
    Market share
    Belgium No official definition 13 - 18 screens (6 - 10 cinemas) 3-4% 530,000 - 650,000 3.12% to 4.1%
    Denmark Not formalised 18 screens 6% 1,500,000 6%
    France Definition by CNC: cinemas classified as A&E must programme 35-75% A&E films 562 (1990) 14% 20,200,000 (1991) 15%
    Germany Defined by the Federation (Programkino) 5001 15% 16,000,000 16%
    Greece None        
    Ireland In practice cinemas showing films not distributed by the leading networks 3 in Dublin + 
    25 film societies in the provinces
    2% 340,000 4%
    Italy Cinemas scheduling films of artistic, cultural and technical interest, or coming from countries whose films are lesser known 330 10.5% 8,000,000 10%
    Netherlands Defined by the Dutch CICAE: films with little commercial potential 48 screens 
    (21 commercial 
    27 municipal)
    11% 1,100,000 8.5%
    Portugal No official definition  15-20 8% 360,000 (e) 3% (e)
    Spain 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
    6%   6%
    UK Art-house: CAA 
    Repertory: Yellow List (BFI)
    50 cinemas 
    (80 screens)
    5% 3,000,000 3%
    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.