For the past year a multinational team led by Attentional and French partner, Headway, have been creating a profile of the “European film audience”.
The report has just been published. It’s an inaugural project for Creative Europe, the framework that embraces the old MEDIA programme. As a study it was innovative: no-one had treated the European film audience as a single entity before. As for its objectives, we were asked to provide an in-depth analysis of the behaviour of younger viewers and to focus on the present and future of European film viewing. For that reason we used sample panels of people between 4 and 50, set up by Harris Interactive of Paris, in 10 countries.
The second objective signified an overarching concern of the MEDIA programme and its parent directorate: could we provide information that would help more European films to “travel”, i.e. get seen outside their home countries?
It’s a very large report, over 800 pages long, with masses of detail, some of it of a very practical nature that could help marketers and distributors use their budgets more effectively. However, the emphasis here will be on the bigger picture. The whole report is available online at http://ec.europa.eu/culture/media/about/about-studies_en.htm.
One of the Study’s research strategies was to split the pan-European audience into five identifiable groups according to extensive data on their film consumption habits and interests. There was a group called Movie Addicts: they were quite often young, very switched on to new technology, and they loved all kinds of films – from Europe, Hollywood and elsewhere. They were also the ones who tended to know about films well ahead of their releases. The Movie Selectives were a similar-sized group, but older, generally well educated and the core audience for European films because they actually prefer them. They are choosey, generally wait for films to gain a reputation and are influenced by the story. The Blockbuster Lovers are the opposite: they enjoy the big-spectacle Hollywood films and are not easily persuaded to go watch a European film. Another group called Hit Grazers were often young teenagers, usually girls: they are not film fans but will go to a film that is relevant to their life stage. Finally, they was a group called Media Indifferents who often live in rural areas with poor access to cinemas and are not really interested in film at all.
Another key finding was the scale of the use of free downloading and streaming services. The word “piracy” was not used but it is clear that the scale of what some preferred to call “unauthorised” viewing is very large – and it’s making zero contribution to industry revenues. What was interesting about these free downloaders and streamers was that the cost of films was an issue with US films but not with European films, where the issue was availability. They just claimed that there was just no legal way to view them.
That takes back to the heart of the issue: there are just not enough legal ways for European films to get seen around the Union. Large numbers of films get shown for a short time in cinemas in one country and are never seen again. The availability of European films on DVD with subtitles is also very patchy. New, legal online VOD services are growing fast but there’s a weak presence of European films on them (whereas almost anything is available illegally). Even as television borders are weakening and even as the British, who traditionally have rejected dubbed or subtitled materials, show they can tolerate subtitles, film seems stuck in a mesh of rules that work not just against a single market but against the possible development of a substantial film industry. The problems are serious.
In the summary section, we classified the issues facing Europe under three headings, but always staying close to the massive amount of data from the ten-country panel. The first problem was Availability: people said many films they wanted to see, especially European films, were just not available. The second issue was Visibility: people said they just weren’t hearing about European films, they were not being reached with the right messages. The third group of issues came from asking people about the films they liked. Top of their likes was Intouchables, the French film about a wealthy disabled man and his black helper, a Box Office hit across Europe, with, sadly, the exception of the UK where it only got a limited release. (Many also said European films were often too “dark”, “slow moving”, too preoccupied with social issues.)
One thing that came across clearly was that the audiences do not think that every film should be seen in a cinema. Film viewing is changing with the times. Many now see the cinema was the place for a “big”, spectacular experience or for an evening out with friends (for most people, going to the cinema, we found, is a social event). Other more intimate films do not need to be seen in a cinema – and we were given examples: science fiction is cinematic, drama is not. So, in this respect the established practices of the industry are out of step with what consumers think and do. Viewers take the view that not all films are worth a “cinema experience”. The European industry has not woken up, it seems, to the fact that the audience does not see the case of postponing the release of a film while it is in the cinema, especially if it does not feel like the sort of film that needs to be seen in a cinema.
The audience has spoken. We hope you find the report useful.
David Graham, CEO Attentional Ltd.