B.O. returns battered by deepening crisis

Countering the notion that cinemagoing is recession-proof, box office returns are getting battered in countries hardest-hit by the deepening Eurozone crisis.

Moviegoing is plummeting in Europe’s economically weaker territories, where steep attendance declines for 2012 year-on-year so far follow downward 2011 figures as well, indicating a significant crisis-related contraction.

Italy, for instance, is seeing a consecutive double-digit drop. Italian box office returns are down 12% to $372 million this year through June 10, following a 10% drop in 2011 when box office totaled $833 million.

In Spain, box office through June 10, also plunged 12% year-on-year to $311 million following a 2.7% drop in 2011, per Rentrak.

Though no 2012 figures are yet available for Greece, grosses in what is certainly the Eurozone’s hardest-hit country went down 7% in 2011 after an 8% drop in 2010.

“Two years of decline is not healthy. In fact it does not happen very often in European or even worldwide box offices,” said David Hancock, senior film analyst at IHS Screen Digest.

Portuguese box office has taken a whopping 11% dive between January and May this year after falling 3% in 2011.

Box office in Ireland is down roughly 7% this year, after declining in both 2010 and 2011.

The Eurozone crisis is bound to be a hot topic at the upcoming CineEurope exhibitors confab today through Thursday in Barcelona. That said, Europe’s top movie markets of France, the U.K. and Germany are not suffering significantly so far in 2012, which many exhibitors see as being weighted toward the second half in terms of the most promising Hollywood titles.

“Things will change dramatically on July 6 with the releases of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘Ice Age: Continental Drift,’ at least that’s our hope,” said one Spanish booker.

However nearly all Hollywood blockbusters have underperformed in Spain and Italy this year, which analysts attribute largely to soaring unemployment rates of under 25-year-olds, a key moviegoing demographic.

By contrast, titles like “The Artist,” which target older, upscale auds, have overperformed.

“Cinema’s core audiences are the worst hit by the crisis,” notes Arturo Guillen, VP Rentrak, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“It used to be that teenagers went out for a movie and a pizza. But now, if it’s anything, it’s just the pizza,” said producer Angelo Barbagallo at a recent Italo industry confab.

Youth unemployment is now at a staggering 51% in Spain and 31% in Italy.

“There is a certain complacency that surrounds this idea that nothing can happen to cinema in a recession. But you can’t equate this to a normal recession. We’ve really never seen a financial crisis like this,” said Hancock.

(John Hopewell and Emilio Mayorga in Madrid, and Martin Dale in Lisbon contributed to this report.)

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