Framing the paradox of the international movie business, French film sales agents’ revenues hit a decade – and most-probably all-time – record in 2014, punching €322 million ($350 million) in sales, 17.3% up on 2013, per a CNC French film-TV board study, which also talked, however, about a “crisis in international distribution” of French films.
The study, The Export of French Films in 2014, published in November, does not go into individual titles when it comes to revenues, but does when it comes to box office gross.
Here, 2014 was the second-best year on record, after 2012, for French films at cinema theaters abroad, driven by a €314.2 million ($342.4 million) box office gross outside France for Luc Besson’s “Lucy.”
The results can be taken multiple ways. It is dangerous to underplay both the scale and resilience of France’s export sector, backed by unflagging public-sector support which is the envy of Europe.
One case in point: France and the U.K. industry, together accounted for 78% of theatrical admissions for European films outside Europe, per a recent European Audiovisual Observatory study, “The Theatrical Market For European Films Outside Europe.”
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Yet again, sectorial concentration has rarely been larger. Five export companies accounted for 81.8% of total sales revenues, the second highest level this last decade.
One company – most probably EuropaCorp, though its name is not mentioned in the report – accounted for 93.4% of revenues from the U.S..
That is telling: Deals on French movies with the U.S., the U.S. plus multi-territories, or Canada soared 45.1% to €71.1 million ($77.5 million) proving one of the key drivers of France’s export surge. A second was Gallic sales agents dealing on non-French movies, up 17.3% (again) from €109.2 million ($119.2 million) to €128.1 million ($139.6 million).
That said, 19 companies filed results in 2005, 22 in 2014. If five posted revenues of €10 million ($10.9 million) or above in 2005 and 2014, that’s at least no less than a decade ago, if not any more. But it may be symptomatic that, while French films’ theatrical gross B.O. was just €392.1 million ($427.4 million) in 2005 and €684.7 million ($746 million) in 2014, the same number of French sales companies – seven – posted revenues of €5 million ($5.45 million) or upwards. In other words, a standout B.OL trawls is not necessarily swelling the ranks of France’s bigger sales agents.
“According to industry execs, results are increasingly polarized,” the CNC report read. ”It’s becoming extremely difficult to difficult for exporters to ensure a minimum level of sales.” Exports are “·increasingly complicated for films in general.” “This crisis of international distribution is linked to a crisis in TV and DVD markets. With both bringing less to the table, buyers currently can only count on theatrical exhibition.” Also, “prices are significantly below pre-crisis levels of 2008. The increase in the number of deals, so contracts, to reach equivalent total sales numbers continues to complicate work conditions.”
Then there’s China. In box office terms, it is France’s fastest growing overseas market, repping €77.8 million ($84.8 million) in box office vs. €123.1 million ($ 134.2 million) for the U.S. and English-speaking Canada and €63.4 million ($69.1 million) for third-ranking Germany.
The bad news: Though 163.1% up on 2013 and comparing with €0.5 million in 2005, revenues to sales agents from China is still only €2.8 million ($3.5 million), Germany’s seven times more: €20.0 million ($21.8 million), per the CNC report.
But there’s also Latin America. With North America and the Middle East, it’s the region that shows clearest fundamental sales growth returning €4.4 million ($4.8 million) to sales agents in 2005, €9.7 million ($10.6 million) in 2014, according to the CNC report. Powering up growth: Pan Latin American sales, sustained by the build of pay TV in the region, and Brazil. Prospects for 2015 looking even brighter, per UniFrance, with “Le Petit Prince” becoming the most successful movie ever in Brazil as French film admissions, over five million through October, blasted past 2014’s total cume (3.7 million) and 2012’s (4.2 million), the year of “Taken 2,” “The Intouchables” and “The Artist.”
“Box office is great in South America now. We’ve seen great success in Colombia, Argentina. I’m just negotiating a multi-title deal with Turke. Before VOD, we didn’t sell these types of movies to Turkey. I don’t think things area s sour as they have been,” Brigaud-Robert commented.
Again, VOD is kicking in for French sales agents. Sales on library titles – films more than three-years-old have picked up from €15.7 million ($17.1 million) in 2009 to €24.2 million ($ 26.4 million) in 2014. But revenue levels have still to hit those of 2005 of €30.3 million ($33.2 million), sustained by more traditional TV and DVD outlets.