While the US grapple with a poor summer box office (BO) most of western Europe seems to have accepted that as a mature cinema market, its countries will see stasis or gradual stagnation only interrupted by the occasional outsize local hit (Italy last year, Ireland this summer). German epitomises this trend, with the recent study of cinema attendance 2009-2013 showing an overall slow decline.
But one European country has challenged the notion that secular decline in the cinema sector is a structural inevitability of changing demographics, technological and economical trends – and it appears to have reversed that decline. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the country in question is France.
France is the only country in the world to take cinema seriously enough to consider the declining cinema attendance a national emergency. Having launched several public initiatives to counter it, the good news is that early indications are that the decline can not just be halted but reversed.
Focus on the Next Generation of Cinema Goers
We have reported earlier on preliminary findings, but these have now been confirmed by the the Centre National du Cinéma (the National Cinema Centre - CNC) in a major report.
On 1 January 2014 French exhibitors introduced a scheme whereby children under the age of 14 would only pay four euro (€4 – USD $5.25) for cinema tickets for every screening of every film for every day. This was a joint public-private effort with the French government doing its part, as noted in an article published a month before the scheme was launched.
This operation, “launching in 2014 but which is intended to continue beyond”, is in the context of the government’s decision to lower on January 1st the VAT on cinema admissions of 7.5% to 5% said Marc-Olivier Sebbag, General Manager of the FNCF (National Federation of French Cinemas).
The VAT reduction desired by the government, is being voted on by MPs. The Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti welcomed the “democratization initiative taken by members of the FNCF.”
There was some opposition from distributors at the time – I can’t imagine Disney in particular being thrilled about this – but with buy-in from all cinemas, as well as the Ministry of Culture, there was no way that Hollywood studios would be permitted to obstruct this initiative.
The FNCF was clear that the goal was to reverse the declining attendance, though they were prepared to re-appraise the terms and methods, based on how it played out.
For the federation, the goal is, “in a context of declining attendance,” to encourage young people to come “more easily and more frequently to the movies” and build audiences for the future. “This is a population that goes to the movies as a family, we therefore address the more general family audience,” said Marc-Olivier Sebbag.
“We will take stock at the end of the first year and we will see whether it should be adjusted, for example by changing the age or price,” said he said.
With under-14 accounting for eight to nine percent (8%-9%) of total admissions, or 16 million out of 200 million, this was a significant step as average ticket prices for this age group was €5.50, compared to the average cinema ticket price in France of €6.42.