The first in-depth report on the effect of France's controversial cinema loyalty passes, introduced in March 2000, reveals that card-holders are on the increase in the country, giving benefits to both exhibitors and distributors.P>

The report, by French film support body CNC, also reveals that foreign titles, as opposed to French productions, were the main beneficiaries - with the most significant impact being on films with a weaker commercial potential. For instance, for a title such as Asfalto, card-holders were responsible for 56.2% of the film's gross in its first week of release.

Overall, the results show that both exhibition and distribution communities are benefiting from the loyalty scheme, despite an average 10% increase in prices for the scheme since the summer. For exhibitors, cards have the effect of smoothing out cinema attendance across the year, while distributors see increased revenues from weaker product.

There are three cards available to French cinema-goers: UGC's 'Illimite', Gaumont's 'Le Pass', and Pathe's 'Cine a Volonte'. One third of French multiplexes currently accept loyalty passes, with 60% of those being covered by the Gaumont and Pathe cards.

In the longer term, the use of loyalty passes appears to be on an upward curve, their holders growing from 2.7% of total French admissions in 2000 to 6% this year. Unsurprisingly, their impact has been strongest in Paris, with a 21% share of the market during the first half of 2001.

At the same time (and notwithstanding the boost given to non-French films by the use of loyalty cards), the local market share for French films has shot up from last year's 29.8% to 43.2% for 2001. US films, conversely, have seen their share plummet to 47.2% from 2000's 62.1%, according to another CNC report on the first 11 months of 2001.

The French exhibition market remained strong in November, (up 12% for the first 11 months of 2001, to nearly 165 million admissions) with 15.5 million admissions (up 12% compared to the same period last year. The upward trend has been sustained since the beginning of the year. With the exception of the second quarter (down 9.2% compared to last year), admissions in French theaters have persistently been on the rise, mostly due to strong box office performances by several French titles in the first half.

Both US and French titles are fuelling the bullish trend in the last quarter, including Harry Potter (3.7 million tickets sold in 12 days) and admissions can be expected to reach some 180 million for the full year (compared to 166 million in 2000).