It is appropriate that the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) should release its cinema admissions report at the Berlin Film Festival rather than Cannes, because it appeared not to make for sunny or cheerful reading.
The headline figure of 4.1 per cent decline for EU cinema attendance and the second lowest attendance since 2000 made news beyond the traditional trade press. So does this spell doom and gloom for European exhibition? A more careful and nuanced reading of the underlying data yields a more mixed picture and even positive sector trends.
There is no arguing with the data itself and Screen did a good job of highlighting what it was that was dragging down the market:
The cumulative admissions drop in the EU was driven by the significant decline in four out of the five largest EU markets:
Spain (-15.2m; -16%)
France (-10.8m; -5.3%)
UK (-7m; -4%)
Germany (-5.4m; -4%).
Only Italy withstood the general downward trend with admissions estimated to have grown by 6.6% to 106.7 million tickets sold.
It should come as no surprise that with Spain mired deep in recession caused by a massive property bubble, spending priorities for tickets to those multiplexes that were part of the over-building problem, were not high on people’s agenda.
Cyprus saw an even bigger drop of nearly a quarter (-24.4 per cent), though Greece was surprisingly only down by nine per cent, which is less than Sweden’s -9.6 per cent, despite the Nordic major having weather the Great Recession much better than any southern European country. So why did Sweden do worse than Greece?
This statistic shows that it was not so much a bad year for European cinemas as for Euro cinema, ie films made in European countries. Italy’s Sole a catinelle from Medusa earned a staggering $69,903,094, which was nearly three times as much as the second biggest film of the year (Frozen – $26m) earned.
It was the lack of a Skyfall-size domestic hit that dragged down UK, while the highest placed French film only came 7th. In Germany Fack Ju Gohte came second the The Hobbit 2 while in Spain the highest place local film was a miserable 16th place for Mama. So don’t blame audiences, instead blame directors, producers and distributors.
A Continent of Two Halves
More than anything, the report served to highlight the differences between what Donald Rumsfeld memorably termed Old Europe (West) and New Europe (Central and East). It was in New Europe that, with the significant exception of Poland, it was a story of growth that transcended the popularity of local productions – though these helped.
This fact was reflected in local news headlines related to the EAO report, such as ‘Turkish people break movie attendance record‘ and ‘Romania sees 13.8% jump in cinema admissions, second highest increase in Europe‘. Bulgaria saw the highest increase in admissions(+16.7 percent) followed by Romania and then Lithuania (+6.8 percent).