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Greek box office down 7% in 2011; distributors try new measures during financial crisis

Greek acquisitions at EFM could be impacted by financial woes in the country.

The Greek financial crisis has not left the local film industry unscathed.

The 2011 admissions were 10.9m, registering a loss of 1 million tickets representing a 7% decrease over the 2010 figures.

Production wise the Greek Film Centre was forced to cut down drastically its backing to new productions due to lack of funds.

Low cost, private independent, auteur driven productions put together thanks to a cooperative-unpaid-participation basis of cast and crew were on the rise. Their score at the box office proved however inversely proportional to the awards and recognition they enjoyed in the international festival circuit.

Among the reasons for the decrease in admissions are:

  • the relative underperformance of foreign blockbusters expected to boost the top ten list
  • the disappointing results of local titles that have boosted the box office in past years
  • piracy
  • the great number of foreign films bought and distributed that the local market cannot absorb

The 2011 top ten chart is led by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides and Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part Two with the rather dismaying score of 396,000 and 348,000 admissions, respectively.

Closing the chart are Black Swan and Midnight in Paris with 212,000 admissions each.

No title grossed more than 500,000 admissions, a figure considered a must for a film to lead the box office.

It is indicative that the top ten films represented a 25% share of the market for 2011 as compared to 32% for 2010.

The number of foreign titles released in the country remained stable at around 280 as per 2010.

The local titles’ underperformance is mirrored in their absence from the top ten list where in past years local films have even topped the chart. That was the case in 2010 with The Island scoring 550,000 admissions followed by I Love Karditsa with 350,000 admissions.

In 2011 the top local titles hovered around a discouraging average 170,000 admissions mark: The Christmas Tango [pictured] came in with 180,000 admissions (and still on release) followed by Once Upon a Time A Baby with 180,000; The Island: Part Two with 170,000 and Sirens Ashore with 155,000. At the bottom of the list were auteur driven titles such as George Lanthimos’ Venice awarded Alps with a mere 9,500 tickets sold.

There were 26 local productions released in 2011 and their market share was 10% down from 15% in record year 2008.

The decision by the Ster cinemas chain to bring down the admission price to €6.50 all week long is among the measures considered to counteract the drop. Ster Odeon and Village dominate the multiplexes sector here with 195 screens in 20 different locations nationwide. Greece overall screens are 390 hardtops and 150 open air summer screens.

Regular admission price in the country is €8-€10. Though cinemagoing is cheaper than other forms of entertainment, such ticket prices are still high considering the dire financial situation of a large part of the local population, middle class included, severely hit by cuts in salaries, pensions and the rise in taxes.

Other belated initiatives of the kind which are since long widely spread in other European Union countries, such as one admission for two persons one particular day of the week (like Orange Wednesdays in the UK), were introduced by the Village and Odeon chains.

Speaking to Screen, heads of the main distributors (no less than 15 operating here) summed up their expectations for this year as well as the measures deemed necessary to avert further attendance decrease.     

Irini Souganidou, representative of the Distributors Union (EDIKTE) and CEO of Feelgood Entertainment (Sony, Disney) pointed out that “the decrease is more substantial considering film rentals. There is a decrease of 10% here compared to last year while admissions are lower by 7%.”

Though she is joined by UIP general manager Marilisa Titomi in expressing a “cautious optimism” for this year — “what I would wish for 2012 is that admissions remain a least at the same level” says the latter — they both agree that some of the main reasons for the slump are piracy and illegal downloading.

It seems that since Manos Krezias, CEO of Odeon, took over the rains of the piracy fighting local agency EPOEE representing the interests of  local distributors, a number of considerable targets have been achieved. For example, at the Gamato site illegal downloading was reduced from 68% to just 8%. Though that proved to be only temporary as other sites enabling illegal downloading took over very soon, the experience proved, according to Souganido , “that there is room for obtaining much more in this area where Greece is among the top 10 countries world wide in illegal downloading.”

It seems there is a consensus among EPOEE members that to achieve more in this area, external help from such sources as the major studios would be most welcome.

Zinos Panagiotidis, chairman of independent distributor Rosebud, points out that “we need a concerted effort among all local distributors to restrain royalties we are ready to pay to secure product.”

He is joined in that by Souganidou who stresses that” we should not pay more than .25%-.30% of a film’s budget to buy it”.

It is well known that due to fierce competition local distributors pay up to 1% of a film’s budget to international sellers to secure it for Greece.

Panagiotidis says this “cuththroat experience that has led asking prices for Greece to heights that do not correspond to the recoupement possibilities of the local market.”

The situation is further complicated by the fact that, as Souganidou points out, “distribution has become lately here only an one platform market, mainly theatrical, while ancillary sources of recoupement such as DVD, acquisitions by TV channels and newspapers covermounts are drying up dramatically due to the financial crisis.”

3D is one of the rare bright spots. Distributors agree that 3D shows a notable upward trend. It represented a 19% market share in  2011 compared to 14% in 2010 and 8% in 2009.

The Berlin European Film Market should be the first opportunity for local distributors to show restraint in their acquisitions practices while other approaches should not be excluded.

One of them could adopt the form of a “hair cut” in tune with what is right now happening to the Greek external debt in relation with its foreign lenders. Greek buyers could ask at the EFM for the renegotiation in the terms of deals concluded previously.

In the production sector, the main doubt remains the capability of the state subsidised Greek Fim Center to back new productions. Lack of funds and accumulated debts from past years have forced the GFC to sporadically back new production from mid-2010 onwards.

According to its newly appointed director general Grigoris Karantinakis, his administration is actually paying off past debts and plans to back up this year around 10 productions by new directors to the tune of €150,000 each plus five productions by established/veteran filmmakers with €250,000 per production.

The average budget of a mid-level Greek production is around €650,000.

According to Karantinakis such funding should be possible from the expected €2.4 million subsidy and another €4 million from tax return on admissions. 

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