Spain has seen a box-office boom in 2014 but admissions were driven by discount ticket schemes. Distributors and exhibitors are looking for new solutions, Juan Sarda reports.

Battle for the box office

At a time when admissions in many major European territories are on a downward trajectory, Spain saw a 14% increase in cinema-goers in 2014 compared with the previous year, as total admissions reached 87 million. Although far short of 2004’s record 140 million customers, the upswing is a crucial reversal of five years of plunging cinema attendance. Yet Rentrak records that gross ticket sales rose just 3% year on year, to $605m.

One initiative — now in its sixth year — that has helped grow admissions but hurts the profit margins is a promotional programme called Fiesta de Cine, which sees Spain’s exhibitors offer heavily reduced ticket prices — at $3.25 (€2.90), compared to a typical $7.90 (€6.97).

For the first time the scheme ran twice in 2014, once in spring and once in autumn; each event was three days and covered 95% of the exhibition market. In April, 1.8 million cinema-goers took advantage of the offer, followed by 2 million in October.

Spain’s producers’ association FAPAE, distributors’ group Fedicine and exhibitors’ organisation FECE jointly back Fiesta de Cin. In 2014, the organisers also touted another discount scheme, Wednesday at the Cinema, again with tickets reduced by at least 50%.

“We did some very aggressive campaigns to lower the prices but the margins couldn’t be tighter right now,” says Fernando Evole, president of Yelmo Cines, which operates 400 screens throughout Spain. The industry’s profits are also being hit by the 21% tax on cinema tickets.

‘Unless there are some serious legal punishments for online piracy, nothing will work’

Josetxo Moreno, Golem

“It’s obvious we cannot survive selling tickets at €2.90 but it has been good to remind people we exist,” adds Evole.

Heavy hitters

Local films Spanish Affair ($77m) and El Nino ($20m) both far surpassed expectations. Both were helped by heavy promotion on the channels owned by backer Telecinco’s broadcaster parent Mediaset.

Evole says those results skew the overall growth. “A single film, Spanish Affair, has almost saved the year by itself. So it’s too soon to say we are on the recovery path and really nobody knows what’s going to happen in the months ahead,” he warns.

US titles including X-Men: Days Of Future Past ($9m), Transformers: Age Of Extinction ($6.5m), 300: Rise Of An Empire ($9.2m) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($7.7m) all underperformed. Industry watchers suggest action-heavy Hollywood blockbusters may have suffered because of the lack of disposable income among young adults — who are either unemployed or in low-paying jobs — not to mention Spain’s infamous piracy problem.

Spanish audiences responded well to a handful of international titles including French comedy Serial (Bad) Weddings ($6.5m), UK drama Philomena ($2.2m), Bille August’s English-language literary adaptation Night Train To Lisbon ($1m), Pawel Pawlikowski’s Oscar-nominated Ida ($630,000), Italian comedy Viva La Liberta ($600,000) and Hayao Miyazaki’s animated The Wind Rises ($500,000).

But overall, distributors are struggling. “2014 was not a good year for us,” says Josetxo Moreno, CEO of arthouse distributor Golem. “And I’m not very optimistic about 2015. The VAT on tickets has been the coup de grace for a sector deeply wounded by piracy and there’s no solution in sight.  Unless there are some serious legal punishments for online piracy, nothing will work. The VoD market is growing but we are very, very far off its real possibilities.”

Spanish distributors are more cautious than ever. “Every film has to be the film,” says Avalon director of distribution Enrique Costa. The company enjoyed success to the tune of $1m with Searching For Sugarman in 2012 but it had underwhelming results in 2014 with the likes of Magical Girl and Long Distance (aka 10.000 km). “Not long ago, people went to the cinema every week and you had to fill this demand. Right now you have to convince them they have to see your film for some very specific, important reason.”

New films from some of Spain’s biggest directors are giving distributors cause for optimism in 2015. These include Alejandro Amenabar’s Regression, Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s A Perfect Day, JA Bayona’s A Monster Calls and Fernando Gonzalez Molina’s Palm Trees In The Snow.