Day 1, Panel 1: Focus France

Before the official opening of the 22nd Europa Cinemas Network Conference, delegates met for an overview and examination from the welcoming country (France), on development perspectives of the French market spanning production, distribution and exhibition.

Eric Marti, General Director of Comscore, France kicked things off with an examination of the French box office in 2022. Referring to the sector’s recovery, he said it was positive but uneven. Though France is faring well in comparison to 2021, and better in some instances than comparative countries Germany, Spain and Italy, numbers are still not as close to pre-pandemic figures as hoped for.

Countries like the US, Australia and the UK & Ireland are also faring well, he said, but the figures were not comparable as Australia, for example, had less catching up to do on figures from 2019 anyway. The global market is sitting at around -33% for arthouse films, and there is a variance between countries. In Germany, for example, it’s slightly higher at -36.4%, whereas in France it’s only at -21.9% when compared with 2019, demonstrative of how the market is recovering stronger in France than elsewhere. This is encouraging on a domestic level, and relates to how, in France, domestic product is lively and robust. Marti’s presentation revealed a large number of French films in the top 10, year upon year, with En Corps leading the roll in 2022.

Cécile Gaget, Head of Film for Wild Bunch responded with some surprise at the disparity between the recovery in France and elsewhere – expecting it to be even starker. From March to June 2020, she said, production was still underway in France, which explains their bigger offering of domestic content when compared with other countries where production was slowed to a greater degree, or halted altogether.

Lionel Bértinet, Director of Cinema at CNC, said he was struck by three key statements from Marti 1) the need for the market to be pushed by blockbusters; whatever the nationality, these figures are similar to pre-pandemic 2) the necessity of providing a wide range of films – including arthouse so that they can find their place in the market, which are faring well in terms of audience admissions, and 3) to support the release of films and to organise events and activities around the films to maintain buoyancy.

Sylvain Béthenod, CEO, Vertigo Marketing Research presenting survey results

Sylvain Béthenod, CEO of Vertigo Marketing Research gave a marketing perspective behind what’s changed and what has not. Their survey on the profiles of cinema audiences in France revealed the two key demographics for cinema a recreational activity as 15-24 year-olds and 60+ year-olds. “These two age groups can be brought together,” he said, “even though their paths diverge when it comes to the types of films they watch. They are the driving force behind the market.”

There are just 12 million 15-24 year-olds in France, which is a small percentage of the population but accounts for a large number of admsisions. Over 60s constitutes a much bigger population and, as such, is targeted by arthouse distributors and accustomed to going to the cinema. They comprise almost 30% of the French population, 20 million people. Owing to this volume of attendance, reaching out to them has a huge impact on admissions. It is not surprising, then, that points of intersection show large majority of French films target an older population over the age of 35.

Although there is some concern for the waning attendance of 35-59 year-olds, and but for some minor variance, the percentage of attendees spanning 2016 to 2022 has largely stayed the same. In the long term, this target audience are increasingly watching American blockbusters and their behaviour is moving closer to 15-25 year-olds than over the 60s, as seen with the releases of Top Gun: Maverick and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Béthenod said.

Most significantly, while admissions have overall rebounded since the effects of Covid, and the target audiences are going to the cinema often, occasional moviegoers have dropped in terms of admissions. Cécile Gaget, Head of Film for Wild Bunch agreed, saying there is a structural change in audience groups and populations, leading to that group of casual moviegoers becoming more selective and tending to stay home to watch more through streaming.

Lionel Bértinet, Director of Cinema, CNC and Laurent Cotillon, Executive Director LFF MEDIA (moderator)

Finally, Lionel Bértinet concluded, it is down to the diversity of content in France that accounts for the diverse age groups attending cinemas. From the perspective of the CNC, the diversity of the offering stands out and must be retained as a very important goal. However, he also agreed that there are challenges ahead, “The first is the 25-50 year-old market, as seen in the survey presented in Cannes. This target group is the most price sensitive. There is also a split in terms of taste where 25-50 year-olds are concerned, so we have to help that population to rediscover the joy of seeing French and arthouse films.”

“Even if we know it, intuitively, we wonder what kind of film we should produce,” Marie Masmonteil from Elzevir Films said. “If we produce for 25-50s, it will be a marginal film and 15-25 year-olds tend to go to the cinema in groups, as it’s one of the least costly forms of entertainment in terms of culture, in France. The CNC have made a short film to encourage people to go to the cinema, and it says, “Go to the cinema to meet (flirt)”, so it’s really for 15-25 year-olds: to flirt and have a good time, which means more admissions. But, the older population go to see a film maybe as a couple, and it’s problematic because we have this intermediate age group that maybe only go once a year to see a film as a family. We wonder why they stay home to stream and use social networks.”

What was most striking from Béthenod’s graphs is that the French offering doesn’t do much for under 25s. There are very few films produced to target that age group. From Cécile Gaget’s perspective, it is infinitesimal for that age group. Before the pandemic there were comedies that did very well and Les Mis was given as an example for 15-24 year-olds, but the content has since slowed. Sylvain believes it is a question of publicity for the sector. “We asked people to grade the films,” he said, “and the stronger grades were given by the younger group, but you have to get them to go to see a film, that’s what’s at stake.”

The panel agreed that long gone is the type of cinema-going behaviour where people simply go to the cinema and choose the film when they arrive, which means new efforts need to be made. “We reach out to the same people all the time, but how can we broaden that audience?” Sylvain asked, “We can’t move beyond that threshold.”

Lionel Bértinet was optimistic, “We have succeeded in that we have not had bankruptcy. The budget for CNC during the crisis and ongoing will stay at current levels.” This support is paramount. “The key of the French system is that it is distributing finances to various professionals. The income of cinemas, films in theatres, TV, VOD, the whole budget is taxed for about 700 million euros, and those funds are redistributed to professionals. There is also a certain obligation to finance the production of films, and there are various subsidies. So the whole list contributes to the promotion of French cinema.”

Marie Masmonteil, Producer, Elzevir Films and Cécile Gaget, Head of Film, Wild Bunch

Marie Masmonteil thanked the CNC and insurers for their ability to continue continue producing films throughout the pandemic. “Public bodies and private bodies continue to discuss and impose new obligations for films going to new platforms,” she continued, “we all decided to co-operate in order to foster strict obligations for newcomers.” In France, compared with other countries, the obligations for streamers are higher – at around 20% of turnover when compared with 5% or 1% in other countries, which Netflix were apparently not very happy about. “We produce simply because we have money,” she said, “It is there and we have not lost it. We have imposed new obligations for financing for foreign streamers and producers retain the rights… In France, no theatres are closing down and new ones are opening. We have the possibility of working together and producing, distributing and exhibiting films. Now we have to find out who the public are.”

“I will be a little more pessimistic than you on distribution,” Cécile Gaget chimed in. “Financial schemes are being revised and none, except a few studios, continues to think as they did prior to the pandemic.” Admissions, she said, have since halved, effecting budgets and windows. “There is a strong position for TV channels and platforms, which are all becoming more powerful, but we have to reduce the risk for distribution. We have the same costs but the admissions have been halved. We don’t have to be a great mathematician to understand that we have a problem here.”

Looking for solutions, Lionel Bértinet suggested that mastery of data should be a priority while Marie Masmonteil said there are simply not enough professionals – technicians and script writers are scarce owing to the large production budgets for series over films.

To combat this, Bértinet said the government are launching a special project, “France 2030”, which aims to boost the economy in France. It includes a new generation of nuclear plants, new developments in transportation and several billion euros of investment, which also includes cinema and the AV industries. It was made clear that investment is key to both maintain and grow the industry, with development of schools for training the technicians of tomorrow at the heart of the French government’s plans. 300 million euros will be dedicated to these types of projects, with new schools and studios launched in the coming years.

Photographs © Francesco Clerici