Competition from platforms, health crisis and overpriced tickets… Why cinemas no longer attract crowds

“People don’t want to go to the movies to get pissed off!” Jérôme Seydoux, the president of Pathé, did not mince his words, on October 12 on France Inter, to explain the drop in attendance at cinemas. In September, 7.3 million tickets were sold in thirty days, the lowest level of attendance over the same period since 1980 (if we do not take into account the exceptional year 2020, marked by the Covid-19 pandemic).

Spectators are shying away from the big screen and the whole profession is shaking. A crisis meeting took place on Thursday, October 6 at the Arab World Institute to sound the alarm and call for a States General. “We need a major emergency plan to relaunch the seventh art, redefine the contours of cultural policy in terms of cinema”assures the producer Elisabeth Perez.

If the world of cinema is on a war footing, it is because this major crisis in attendance has repercussions on the entire chain of production and exploitation of films. In France, the money from the takings of feature films, via a tax on tickets, is redistributed for the financing of French cinema. So who says fewer admissions, says fewer films produced.

Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic has been there and, like many other sectors, cinema has not been spared. In total, in 2020 and 2021, cinemas were closed for 300 days, figures a study by the National Center for Cinema and the Moving Image (CNC) published in May. “It has massively encouraged people to develop other ways to access culture”explains Chloé Delaporte, eteacher-researcher in the socio-economics of cinema at the University of Montpellier. The CNC study illustrates this underlying trend: 38% of the spectators questioned have lost the habit of going to the cinema since the health crisis; 36% find the ticket too expensive; 26% prefer watching movies on other media; 23% mention a lack of interest in the films on offer.

“The regulars, who went there once a week, and the regulars, who went there once a month, have lowered their rate of attendance”, notes Adrien Thollon, president of Lucky Time, a communication and digital marketing agency for cinema. Between 2019 and 2021, the Netflix and Amazon Prime platforms thus gained nearly 5 million subscribers in France and Disney + 2.5 million, according to the CNC.

“With the Covid-19, there has been a loss of habit among spectators. And the platforms have taken power over the imagination, in a certain way.”

Elisabeth Perez, producer

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He “It seems difficult today to think only in terms of rooms, point Guillaume Soulez, professor of cinema at the University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle. Fans of ‘fantasy’ will consume films and series in theaters or on other media.”Grégory Levasseur, for example, produced the science fiction thriller for Netflix last year Oxygen (directed by Alexandre Aja), a fairly rare genre in France. “Would a French distributor have taken this risk for the cinema ? Would we have had the same success? Nothing is less sure”says the producer.

In addition to this drop in attendance and competition from platforms, there are other factors that weigh down the big screen. But the profession is divided on the diagnosis. First, the number of films released each year. “I sincerely think that we produce too many films in France. JI am very embarrassed to say it because, if we produced fewer films, I would as much like that we continue to produce mine, hence my embarrassment”, slips the director Patrice Leconte. Before the health crisis, around 300 films were released on average in cinemas each year. In 2021, 340 films were approved, i.e. 103 more than in 2020 and 39 more than in 2019. This record level essentially corresponds to a catch-up effect of projects not shot in 2020., assures the CNC. A volume that inevitably generates breakage.

The director Marine Francen and the producer Elisabeth Perez, they defend this plurality. “It’s ridiculous. Do we say that there are too many books?, gets annoyed the first. The two women believe that the problem does not come from the number but from the way in which the films are exhibited. When the big machines monopolize the greatest number of screens, “there are a whole bunch of ‘little films’ that don’t get much promotion, nor theatrical exposure”, deplores Marine Francen. Elisabeth Perez also recalls that filming is a vector of job creation. Reduce the number “would be an economic and social absurdity”.

In this time of crisis, the price of the ticket is also subject to debate. “For some of my students, the priority is to eat, not to get a web,” says teacher Chloé Delaporte. The “premiumisation” of certain multiplex cinemas (comfort, image and sound quality), where the ticket can sometimes exceed twenty euros, is however not representative of all cinemas. “LCinema is not too expensive: the average price in France is 7 euros, only 10% of prices are above 10 euros”ensures Mark Olivier-Sebbag, General Delegate of the National Federation of French Cinemas. The success of the last Film Festival, which brought together 3.3 million spectators in four days, with a single ticket at 4 euros, shows however that the price remains an essential lever to encourage people to return to cinemas.

The public having the embarrassment of the choice, the lack of originality of the offer is also singled out. “The public can have this feeling of finding the same films a little. As a spectator, I want to be offered something other than intimate drama or somewhat heavy comedy”, observes producer Grégory Levasseur. Patrice Leconte, he calls to thwart “the reluctance of distributors and producers”.

“Audiences want their money’s worth, which is perfectly understandable. You have to lead them towards something new. However, we apply perhaps too often the same recipe for films that work.”

Patrice Leconte, director

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“The only thing that matters and that can save us is to make good films”, continues the director. “Measures should be put in place to allow producers to detach themselves a little from the question of means, and to favor times to talk about stories”, abounds the producer Alain Terzian, who directed the Académie des César from 2003 to 2020.

A criticism that others sweep away. “We currently have a very wide variety of films, but many do not reach the public, and that’s a shamesighs Marine Francen. Viewers’ perception – ‘All films are alike, all films are weak’ – is truncated from the reality of what they are being offered“. The recent theatrical successes of several French films as The Night of 12 (by Dominik Moll) or See Paris again (by Alice Winocour) seem to contradict the finding of a boring standardization. “What makes the French exception, and also the admissions, is also films that meet their audience, win prizes, make our cinema shine. Success is not measured only in accounting terms, it is not that Top Gun and Les Tuches“, supports Nathanaël Karmitz, boss of the MK2 group.

Part of the profession now wants to put an end to catastrophic speeches. “September is always a very bad month in terms of entries, recalls Marc-Olivier Sebbag. Since the pandemic, “70% of people came back, it’s already a success. We are doing better than our German or Spanish neighbors, who record between -60 and -40% attendance. In France, the decline is besides “less strong among the independents” and in so-called “Art and Essay” rooms, according to the CNC, than in large rooms.

Be careful, however, not to oppose two worlds that coexist. “I am for all the diversity of works to coexist peacefully, from market films to films of authors, but with theidea that the smallest can live decently, in particular because it is from him that comes the renewal of filmmakers”supports the producer Elisabeth Perez. “The idea is not to be against each other, but with each other”insists Nathanael Karmitz.

Most of our interlocutors also consider that it is necessary to put resources back into education, some of the moviegoers having grown up with television programs broadcast on public channels, such as “Cine-club” or “The last session”, which no longer exist today. “If children have been exposed to several types of cinemas at a young age, we can think that some of them will retain certain practices”, analyzes Guillaume Soulez. For this teacher, turning to the spectators can be one of the keys to countering disinterest.

“Audiences have a history, belong to a generation. You have to ask yourself if the proposed offer corresponds to what they are looking for.”

Guillaume Soulez, film professor

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A wish that echoes the questions of representation and diversity that have shaken cinema for several years. According to studies, it is young people who have changed their cinema attendance the least. However, few French films for young people are produced”, underlines the president of Lucky Time, Adrien Thollon. “If the cinema is aimed at people it doesn’t know, it won’t be able to sell them anything. There, we are in a kind of self-segregation where we make people feel guilty who no longer go to the cinema“, abounds Chloé Delaporte, who launches this call: “Let’s give the floor to the people we want to bring to the theaters.”

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