By Daniel Loria
Facing yet another year of losses at the box office, the Spanish exhibition industry realized it needed to do something big to bring people back to the cinema. Admissions in Spain experienced a 27 percent slide from 2009 to 2013, as piracy problems and an economic crisis chipped away at what had once been one of Europe's marquee markets. The solution was only partial and it seemed like a feeble attempt to cover a hemorrhage with a Band-Aid; the Fiesta del Cine was introduced in cinemas across the country-a coordinated campaign to offer tickets for just under €3 over a three-day span in October 2013.
The program was an overwhelming success, revitalizing popular interest in the theatrical experience following a number of major setbacks, such as a 21 percent tax applied on top of ticket prices since September 2012. The reduced ticket price was a major appeal to consumers, and it was only a matter of time before similar campaigns would be approved to cover a larger span of time. Spanish audiences got their wish with the implementation of a reduced-ticket-prices program coordinated in cinemas across the country, allowing filmgoers to attend a function for under €5 every Wednesday from mid-January to mid-April of 2014.
Spanish director Emilio Martínez-Lázaro's culture-clash comedy Ocho apellidos vascos opened in its home market on March 14. The film took the No. 1 spot on its opening weekend with $3.9 million. It has since gone on to dominate the market, finishing as the top film in Spain for over nine consecutive weekends and grossing over $76 million. Ocho apellidos vascos not only survived the release of studio tentpoles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Noah, Rio 2, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 -it thrived as the No. 1 film in the market throughout their respective theatrical runs; none of those films will be able to claim a single weekend as the No. 1 film in Spain. Only three months after finishing a dismal year, Spain had its biggest domestic release of all time-in both box office revenue and admissions -and the No. 2 release in box office history behind Avatar.
Spain can recuperate a lot of the lost ground from the past five years with a slew of promising domestic titles in the coming months. Established franchises like Torrente 5 and [REC] 4: Apocalypse make a return to theaters this year, and beloved comic book characters Mortadelo y Filemón return to the big screen in their first 3D animated film in November. We might be looking at a record year for Spanish cinema in terms of market share by the end of 2014. A sequel for Ocho apellidos vascos, tentatively titled Nueve apellidos catalanes, has already been announced.
The example from Spain reveals the not-so-secret strategy behind boosting admissions in today's European market. A combination of admissions initiatives, coordinated between distributors and exhibitors, along with the resiliency of a domestic hit can make all the difference for any individual European territory.
France has followed a similar approach in 2014 to positive results. The French box office kicked off the year with three months of increased attendance when compared to 2013, resulting in an 18.6 percent increase over last year's numbers in the first quarter alone. The first trimester numbers provide slightly better results, according to an announcement by CNC Director of Studies and Statistics Benoît Danard on Twitter; France has enjoyed an 18.9 percent increase in admissions in 2014 over the previous year.
As in Spain, a possible catalyst for this growth can be attributed to a national admissions initiative that allows any child under the age of 14 to attend any screening of any film in the country for €4. The program has been active since January 2014. The success of domestic fare has also been vital for France's growth. 2014 has already provided two blockbuster hits for the French film industry: Supercondriaque, which has grossed more than $45 million at home since its February premiere, and Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu?, a culture-clash comedy (see a pattern here?) that earned more than $42 million in its first three weekends at the French box office.
Last year's doom-and-gloom headlines should neither be forgotten nor taken for granted. The success of both the French and Spanish markets prove, however, that the power of the business continues to be concentrated in providing customers great product at an accessible price point. While strong domestic films don't necessarily translate to a healthy exhibition industry, these case studies from France and Spain prove that a multi-tiered strategy in attracting viewers back to theaters can prove to be a formula for recovery and continued success.
A Look at Some Audience-Development Initiatives in Europe
- Reduced ticket price of €4 for all children under 14 since January 2014.
- Cellphone provider Orange offers a branded campaign every Tuesday that provides two-for-one tickets.
- Festa del Cinema campaign offered reduced ticket prices May 8-15 of this year. Prices went down to €3 and €5 for 3D films.
- A one-week campaign is scheduled for September 2014 that will offer reduced ticket prices and special events.
- A National Cinema Day is scheduled for November, when tickets will be offered at half price.
- Miércoles al Cine campaign offered tickets ranging from €4 to €5 every Wednesday from January to April of this year.
- Orange Wednesdays has been a two-for-one branded program from the cellphone and Internet provider since 2004.
By Phil Clapp, President, International Union of Cinemas (UNIC)
At a time when attention seems mainly to focus on the role that China in particular is playing in driving global growth in cinema, the significant contribution that the European market continues to make to those headline figures should not be overlooked.
Despite a very small drop in revenue and admissions in 2013, UNIC territories contribute more than a quarter of global box office and have started 2014 in good health.
The last year has confirmed the continuing importance to European cinema of key titles from the U.S. studios, but also the major boost that European films provide to box office. Often this is associated with a domestic production, as was the case in 2013 with the film Sole a catinelle in Italy and in particular Stalingrad in Russia. Sometimes a film produced in one European territory will perform spectacularly well in another. Such was the case last year in Portugal with La cage dorée, a French film about Portuguese immigrants, repeating the success seen previously with another French film-Intouchables-in several European territories in 2012.
Away from the headline numbers, the digital revolution-or more accurately, the first wave of that revolution-is quietly reaching its end-game. Because while most European territories are (with the exception of some economically challenged parts of southern Europe) approaching full digitization, that change has, in fact, hastened a new era of upgrades and improvements to the cinemagoing experience.
With barely a chance to draw breath after a period of unparalleled investment, operators are now being faced with a range of choices in content innovation-including higher frame rates, immersive sound, and now higher dynamic range experiences-as well as understanding the full potential of greater programming flexibility around film and other content.
And outside of the cinema auditorium, new ways to engage with audiences through social media and other emerging means of communication proliferate alongside innovations in retail and hospitality.
All of that change presents as many challenges as it does opportunities, so while UNIC cannot make the necessary business decisions for any individual operator, it sees part of its role as acting as a "trusted guide" through this increasingly congested and confusing terrain, enabling European exhibitors to speak with one voice on issues of shared concern and thereby also encouraging a more coordinated approach across the industry.
Added to that sense of dynamism around European cinema, we are also in a period of rapid change in the European political landscape as it relates to the sector-another area in which UNIC has a key role.
2013 saw us engage with the European Commission and Parliament, and with key industry partners, across a range of complex issues. These included consideration of the following: the state aid rules that govern what support national governments are allowed to give the industry, be it exhibition, distribution, or production; the copyright framework necessary to protect the interests of creative rights holders while still meeting the needs of audiences in a rapidly evolving consumer market; the treatment of film as more than just a commercial commodity; and the questionable role of the Commission in intervening in longstanding and beneficial film-release practices that meet audience preferences across various European territories.
And 2014 promises, if anything, more change, with EU elections leading to new faces, new roles, and new portfolios, and the need for renewed education and engagement.
UNIC will use that opportunity to restate its position that while the need for an expanding legal online offer of film content is understood, the challenge for all elements of the value chain is to grow the pie together-not cannibalize one at the expense of another, nor inflict material damage on the main pillar of the film industry (exhibition) at a time when home entertainment revenues are down and online is not yet taking up the slack.
One way forward would be for those promoting online offers to be more open about the numbers. In contrast to cinema exhibition-which bares its financial soul on a weekly basis-the lack of transparency from VOD and other similar platform providers makes it impossible to judge the value those elements bring and their potential to provide more. Another would be for those providers to buy into the creative process, offering investment in production and transparency in terms of their tax affairs in the territories in which they operate.
UNIC will continue through 2014 and beyond to argue its case on these and many other important issues, to increase its own-and its members'-understanding of the technological and political change ahead, and to remind policy makers and the public of the economic, cultural, and social contribution that cinemas make to communities in every European territory.
Godzilla stomped through China in its opening weekend. The monster movie claimed a $36 million debut in the market en route to a $38 million weekend overeseas. IMAX screenings in China alone brought in over $4.5 million, too close to call to see if Godzilla broke the record for the biggest opening weekend on IMAX -a title currently held by the previous Hobbit film. The giant lizard has now grossed $248.3 million overseas and $440 million worldwide in his (her?) latest film.
Edge of Tomorrow continues to battle through the overseas markets, adding $37.4 million in its latest frame to reach a $181 million cume outside of North America. IMAX screenings contributed $3.4 million this weekend, bringing the film's global IMAX haul up to $22 million. Edge of Tomorrow has grossed $237.6 million worldwide.
Maleficent conjured up another $37.2 million from 53 territories during its third weekend overseas. The Angelina Jolie film is now up to $272.9 million outside of North America and has grossed a strong $436.4 million globally. Top markets for the Disney film include a surprisingly robust $36 million from Mexico, $32.2 million from Russia, $22.7 million from the UK, and $18.6 million from Brazil. Maleficent expands to China next weekend.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 took on a big expansion and played on 4,428 screens across 25 markets overseas. The film collected $24.8 million outside of North America to post a $26.5 million overseas cume and $76.5 million global haul on the weekend of its North American release. IMAX screenings worldwide contributed $2.1 million to that tally. The animated film expands to 28 markets next weekend.
22 Jump Street jumped to an $80.6 million global haul after the film's North American debut this weekend. The buddy comedy grossed an additional $6.9 million in its latest frame overseas to take its cume outside of North America to $20.6 million.
X-Men: Days of Future Past added $18.2 million to its overseas tally, taking its total outside of North America to $457.6 million. The film has grossed $663.5 million worldwide. China continues to lead all the overseas markets with a $111.8 million haul.
The Fault in our Stars added $16.4 million in its latest weekend overseas after expanding to 21 new markets. The drama is curerntly in release in a total of 37 markets outside of North America, where it is currently reporting a $39.3 million cume. The film has grossed $121.6 million worldwide, including a commanding performance in Brazil where it has occupied the #1 spot for two consecutive weeks.
Noah was just shy of cooling Frozen's hot streak in Japan, finishing in second place in its debut in the market with a $3.5 million bow from 338 locations. The Japanese premiere lifts Noah to a $251 million overseas total and $352.1 million worldwide cume.
Frozen held on to maintain the #1 spot in Japan for the 14th consecutive weekend, however, fighting off the Biblical epic by topping the box office yet again, this time with a $3.8 million haul. The animated hit is now up to $852 million overseas and $1.252 billion worldwide.
Sunday Update: Sony's 22 Jump Street won this weekend's box office battle with relative ease with an estimated first place debut of $60.0 million. The highly anticipated action comedy sequel starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum had been expected to find itself in a close battle for first place with How to Train Your Dragon 2. 22 Jump Street opened in line with its lofty expectations this weekend. The film opened an impressive 65 percent stronger than the $36.30 million debut of 2012's 21 Jump Street and 10 percent below the $66.41 million breakout debut of last year's World War Z. 22 Jump Street registered the second largest opening weekend ever for an R-rated comedy (behind only the $85.95 million opening weekend take of 2011's The Hangover Part II). The film had an especially impressive per-location average of $18,149 for the frame.
22 Jump Street debuted with $25.2 million on Friday (which included $5.5 million from evening shows on Thursday), declined 26 percent on Saturday to gross $18.75 million (the decline being quite understandable given the size of the film's Thursday night start) and is estimated to fall 14 percent on Sunday for a Father's Day gross of $16.05 million. That places the film's estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.38 to 1. While that ratio does indicate significant initial front-loading, the film is likely to be helped out going forward by strong word of mouth (it received an A- rating on CinemaScore and has been well received by critics) and by the relative lack of surefire blockbusters entering the marketplace over the next three weeks (with the one exception being Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction). 22 Jump Street was helped out greatly by having clear four-quadrant appeal. The audience breakdown for the film was split evenly between male and female moviegoers and skewed towards moviegoers under 25 (56 percent).
How to Train Your Dragon 2 took second place with an estimated $50.0 million. The 3D computer animated sequel from Fox and DreamWorks Animation debuted below pre-release expectations. The film's start was underwhelming, especially given that the film was widely expected to be among the summer's highest grossing films domestically. Holding power will now be even more important for How to Train Your Dragon 2 going forward and will ultimately determine whether or not the film's overall domestic performance is a disappointment. While How to Train Your Dragon 2 opened 14 percent ahead of the $43.73 million opening weekend take of 2010's How to Train Your Dragon, it debuted 39 percent softer than the $82.43 million start of last year's Monsters University.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 debuted with $18.5 million on Friday (which included a relatively large $2 million from evening shows on Thursday), declined 7 percent on Saturday to gross $17.18 million and is estimated to fall 17 percent to gross $14.33 million on Father's Day. That places the film's estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at a so-so 2.70 to 1. On the positive side of things, with strong early word of mouth (the film received a strong A rating on CinemaScore) and no new computer animated films entering the marketplace until Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue arrives on July 18, odds are extremely strong that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will hold up very well going forward. The original film boasted an especially impressive total gross to opening weekend ratio of 4.98 to 1.
Disney's Maleficent continued to hold up relatively well this weekend with an estimated third place take of $19.01 million. The 3D fantasy blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie was down 45 percent from last weekend, which represented a very solid hold when considering the new direct competition the film faced from How to Train Your Dragon 2. Maleficent has grossed a strong $163.52 million through 17 days of release. That places Maleficent 34 percent ahead of the $122.06 million 17-day gross of 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman. With the debuts of both The Fault in Our Stars and How to Train Your Dragon 2 now out of the way, Maleficent has a strong chance of beginning to hold up even better than it already has going forward.
After a lackluster start last weekend, Warner's Edge of Tomorrow held up nicely this weekend with a fourth place estimated take of $16.18 million. The critically acclaimed sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt was down a healthy 44 percent from last weekend. The strong second weekend hold was much needed given the film's large price tag. Edge of Tomorrow has grossed $56.65 million through ten days of release. That places the film 13 percent behind the $65.09 million ten-day take of last year's Oblivion (which fell 52 percent in its second weekend to gross $17.80 million). With strong word of mouth and continued summer midweek business ahead, Edge of Tomorrow should continue to gain ground going forward in the comparison with Oblivion.
On the heels of last weekend's very strong first place start, Fox's The Fault in Our Stars tumbled four spots and 67 percent this weekend to place in fifth with an estimated $15.73 million. Despite good word of mouth, the low-budget drama starring Shailene Woodley had been expected to fall off sharply this weekend, due largely to the film's sizable built-in audience from the novel it was adapted from. In the larger picture, The Fault in Our Stars is still performing very well with a ten-day take of $81.70 million (especially with its low price tag in mind). With its expected large second weekend decline out of the way and continued strong summer midweek business likely ahead of it, The Fault in Our Stars could still stabilize going forward.
Fellow Fox release X-Men: Days of Future Past placed in sixth with an estimated $9.5 million. It appears that the positive word of mouth for the 3D superhero sequel may be starting to kick in at the box office, as the film was down just 37 percent from last weekend. The film also received some added help this weekend from the Father's Day holiday. X-Men: Days of Future Past surpassed the $200 million domestic milestone on Saturday (the film's 23rd day of release) and has grossed $205.94 million through 24 days.
Saturday Update: Sony reports that 22 Jump Street grossed a stellar $25 million on opening day, including Thursday's $5.5 million preview grosses. That blows away the first film's $13.2 million first day back in March 2012, while also topping the $19.6 million and $20.6 million respective bows of Neighbors and Ted. BoxOffice projects $63 million for the opening weekend as a whole.
Early word of mouth appears excellent with an "A-" CinemaScore and a strong 91 percent from Flixster's audience as of Saturday morning--significantly ahead of Neighbors's 80 percent score at the same point after release. Critics have also raved about the Phil Lord/Chris Miller-helmed sequel (their second flick this year after The LEGO Movie) with an 83 percent Rotten Tomatoes score--exceptional by comedy sequel standards. Rumor has it that the sequel's production budget clocked in around $50 million, meaning the film is well on its way to profitability in a very short of amount of time.
Meanwhile, Fox/DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon 2 claimed $18.5 million on Friday (including $2 million from Thursday). That's a bit shy of Madagascar 3's $20.7 million first day two Junes ago, and even further behind Monsters University's $30.5 million last year. However, neither of those films opened on Father's Day weekend. Additionally, initial word of mouth on Dragon 2 is excellent with the film garnering 92 percent scores from both Flixster audiences and Rotten Tomatoes critics. With the potential for some backloading toward Saturday and Sunday due to the family holiday, and the potential for long legs as the summer's only animated release until Disney's Planes sequel, Dragon 2 has an overall healthy outlook. For this weekend, BoxOffice projects $54 million.
Friday Update #2: Sources tell BoxOffice that 22 Jump Street is pacing for an impressive $60 million+ opening weekend based on Friday business thus far, while How To Train Your Dragon 2 is racing close behind with an eye toward $55-57 million this weekend.
Check back later for further updates on Friday projections, and Saturday morning for weekend projections based off official studio estimates.
Friday Update #1: Sources report that Sony's 22 Jump Street bagged an excellent $5.5 million from Thursday evening shows. That's a big start to the weekend ahead for the anticipated sequel, more than double the $2.56 million Thursday night start of Neighbors last month. Jump's nature as a sequel could result in more frontloading than that pic, but either way, Sony is set for a strong weekend ahead.
Meanwhile, Fox/DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon 2 earned a healthy $2 million last night. That compares favorably against the $2.6 million start of Pixar's Monsters University last June. The lower turnout could be written off by the lack of Pixar's faithful fan base for Dragon, but that's a solid start for the sequel.
Reviews and preliminary word of mouth are strong for both new openers, so you can expect a very busy Father's Day weekend ahead.
More to come...
By Daniel Loria
Canadian exhibitor Cineplex has been at the forefront of many of today's biggest innovations of the exhibition world. Ellis Jacob, CEO and president of leading Canadian exhibitor Cineplex, has been a fixture in the industry since joining the company in the late 1980s. BoxOffice spoke to Ellis Jacob ahead of ShowCanada to get his insights into the Canadian market, the importance of innovation, and the changing landscape of today's exhibition business.
Over the past few years, Cineplex has grown its market share in Canada to a spectacular 77 percent. What have been the drivers of this growth?
One of the things we as an organization have done is focused on trying to increase the incidence of people coming to the movies and increasing our attendance. The way we've done that is by focusing on the premium offerings that we have. If you compare us to the U.S. circuits, we derive a significant part of our revenue from these premium experiences.
If you look at the regular ticket price, a film in 2D at Cineplex today costs less than it did ten years ago. So our big focus has been on 3D, VIP, UltraAVX, IMAX, and all those different alternative ways of viewing. This weekend, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out, we got over 70 percent of our revenue from premium offerings compared to 40 percent in the U.S. On an annualized basis, we ended 2013 with almost 40 percent of our box revenue coming from these premium offerings as compared to 3 percent six years ago.
What are the key differences you see between the U.S. market and the Canadian market?
The U.S. market has really been driven by increased box office pricing, and we've really focused more on giving the guest a better and broader experience and charging them only an increased price when the experience is different. We really haven't changed from our base ticket prices, whereas we charge a premium if you go to a 3D or VIP screening. There needs to be value for the price change.
In terms of our concession offering, we have always focused on total revenue per person, and our U.S. peers seemed to focus on gross margin and keeping that number as low as possible. As a result, their concession offerings tended to be core-soft drinks, popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, and select candy. At Cineplex, our approach is more akin to a food court offering, with numerous retail branded outlets offering everything from chicken tenders, burgers, and pizza to frozen yogurt, Tim Hortons doughnuts and coffee in addition to a wide range of candy and beverages. This way we earn more from each person even though our margins are a little lower.
Cineplex brought us the SuperTicket, a concept that has begun gaining traction in the United States. Could you tell us a bit about its results?
We started with Pacific Rim last summer with Warner Bros. and have done several films since then. We've seen continued improvement on the uptake on the SuperTicket. I think it will become more relevant as more and more studios start doing it, so the consumer knows that this is an offering they can avail themselves. I think it's a fantastic model where individuals can watch the movie at the cinema and also get a digital download. As you can see, other circuits have started doing it as well. One of the advantages for us is when the SuperTicket is purchased, you are actually depositing the SuperTicket in the Cineplex Locker, which we've created compared to other circuits where they need to use a third party service for their download.
We also have a digital rental program that we launched, "$2.50 Tuesdays," that allows people to match up what we do at the cinemas by being able to rent a movie for $2.50. It's all about innovating so the guest can think of Cineplex as the place to go when you think about movies.
Has the SuperTicket been a successful vehicle to drive your VOD efforts?
We have the SCENE loyalty program where we now have 5.6 million members. So one out of seven Canadians are members in our loyalty program. That gives us phenomenal data that allows us to communicate with them for things like the SuperTicket and VOD. What we know now are consumer habits, and we can basically link up with that particular guest for that movie or for another movie that's coming out. And it also allows us to sell them library titles that other exhibitors can't. There's a lot of runway in this business and it's a business that I think complements our existing services. It's a new business for us, and I see it becoming a "bricks-and-clicks" business in the long-term.
You decided to go with your own in-house online ticketing service, where customers can buy a ticket to see a film at one of your theaters-or at any of your competitor's locations. How did you decide on this strategy?
We started with our own online ticketing many years ago. We were trying to create a destination where Canadians could find tickets by just going to our website. We have a geo-targeted app that will tell you the closest theater [for the film], whether it is a Cineplex theater or not. Fortunately, most of them are Cineplex.
Today we have more than 9 million people who have downloaded our app; 25 percent of Canada's population has our app, and we are now the ninth most popular mobile app in the country.
At the end of the day, we wanted it to be seamless for our guests so that whenever Canadians thought about movies, they'd go to the Cineplex app or website. That was the whole reason driving the decision [to open ticketing to third parties]. We don't really see ourselves as being competitive with other chains, we see ourselves as competitive with what you're going to do with your entertainment time and dollars.
Cineplex is more than a theater brand, it is now an entertainment brand that offers a holistic media approach with Cineplex Media. What are the trends you are envisioning to develop advertising opportunities around your brand?
The media business has grown for us quite significantly. There are a lot of links between the magazine, our website, and the loyalty program. There is a lot we can do together when an agency comes to us in order to create a fully integrated advertising campaign. You've got a lot of additional opportunities with the mobile app, digital signage, TimePlay-which is another innovation where we include interactivity as part of a movie's pre-show-and we've got ShowTime advertising, lobby advertising, and marketing partnerships with different Canadian retailers.
We just signed an agreement with 2,200 Tim Hortons locations to add Tim's TV, and we'll be providing them with the installation, content, and advertising for those locations. The media business goes well beyond the theater itself, so we can now do campaigns with many tentacles that go into several different areas reaching Canadians from coast to coast.
Our industry is about a best-in-class consumer experience. What are your priorities to enhance this experience? Where do you see the future of the exhibition industry heading?
From an industry perspective, I think you'll continue to see advancement in both the delivery of film, higher film rates, better sound systems, laser technology, and more experiments with 4D. In addition to that, at Cineplex we continue to focus on giving the guest the best experience. I've been to a lot of countries and a lot of cinemas around the world, and I would say that at Cineplex we give our customers one of the best experiences and a great value proposition. At the end of the day, its all about making sure that the audience comes back to the theater to continue to indulge in the movie experience.
A lot of the times when we do alternative content programming like the Met Opera, it brings back guests to our theaters who probably hadn't been for many, many years. They enjoy the experience and they start coming back to see movies as well.
What are your thoughts on the "hot-button" topics affecting our industry today: piracy and release windows?
We had a huge issue with piracy in Canada. We worked with the government and studios and now we have some of the toughest antipiracy laws in place. It's now a criminal offense to steal a movie from a theater, and you can end up in jail over it, which wasn't the case prior to 2007.
At Cineplex, we take piracy very seriously and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years adding security measures to deter theft. We have a zero-tolerance policy for it, and we have trained our theater teams on how to handle these situations. They deserve the praise for their work on the front lines dealing with the issue.
From the perspective of windows, I think it's really important both for the studios and ourselves, as it could have a major impact on both of our businesses if the windows were to continue to shrink as they have in the last number of years. It has kept close to a steady four-month period-there are exceptions, but on average it has been around that time frame. We look at it as an important window to maintain, but we also know we have other windows like VOD where we can continue to innovate.