European cinemas bounced back strongly in 2021 after a miserable COVID-hit 2020. They are capable of returning to 2019 levels, says the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) in its annual report, but they are not there yet.
UNIC represents cinema trade associations and cinema operators in 39 countries in Europe and neighboring regions. Publication of its annual report was scheduled to coincide with the CineEurope convention of exhibitors and distributors now taking place in Barcelona, Spain (June 20-23,2022).
European cinema admissions increased by an estimated 36% in 2021, with almost 590 million visits across the region. Box office reached €3.7 billion ($3.92 billion), an increase of 41% on the previous year.
This was achieved when most screens across the region were shut for the first six months of the year and operated for the remainder under limited occupancy or other additional restrictions.
Across the EU countries, European films accounted for a 26.5% share of the market, fractionally up from the 25.7% figure in 2019, but down from the 39.5% share in 2020. The top five territories for national films’ market share were: France (41%), the Czech Republic (38%), Serbia (37%), Denmark (37%) and Norway (28%). Denmark, Croatia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, France and Poland were the markets that recovered most strongly (compared with the 2019 benchmark).
And, despite the challenging release context, several European and international titles managed to break box office records at national and international level during 2021.
“While the numbers shown here for 2021 are very positive, it remains the case that these remain challenging times for the European cinema sector,” said UNIC president Phil Clapp. The 2021 overall gross box office figure across the UNIC region is more than 70% below 2019 levels.
Among the report’s key predictions is the forecast from outside consultancy Gower Street Analytics that box office in the EMEA area this year will expand by 62% compared with 2021.
At the time of the report’s publication most European cinemas have been able to operate without interruption for almost 12 consecutive months. Using France as an example, it showed that cinemas welcomed 153 million visitors between May 2021 and May 2022, representing 75% of the average admissions figures for 2011–2019.
“We may have to wait for 2023 to witness full recovery, bringing us ever closer to pre-pandemic results,” said the report.
Clapp said that all industry stakeholders and policy-makers need to continue to pursue efforts aimed at ensuring the survival of local cinemas, whatever their size and location. “2022 will be a pivotal year for the industry,” he said.
The report highlighted the value of government support for cinemas – noting that less than 1% of European cinemas were permanently closed in the year – and the effectiveness of marketing support events in the relaunch cycle.
Chief among its policy recommendations is defense of the exclusive theatrical window, which is coming under threat and is being shortened in many territories.
A ‘window’ of exclusivity for cinema operators is vital for the health of the film and cinema industry and a proven business model that ultimately benefits the entire film value chain, from financing to marketing to distribution throughout each film’s life-cycle,” the report argued. “Any move to establish a very short window – or to eradicate it entirely – would put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and inevitably lead to a reduced rather than greater diversity of films and cinemas.”
It noted that the three highest grossing films of 2021 were released in cinema first and exclusively, while the three most pirated films of 2021 were released simultaneously on VOD and in cinemas.