The raw figures for the 2006 box office point to a widespread recovery. In the context of the last few years, however, it is perhaps more a case of steady advance than a big leap forward. That in itself may be exactly the kind of stability needed in a period of change.

As we argued last year, the downturn of 2005 needed to be judged in the context of more than a decade of growth and an unusually successful 2004, rather than leaping to immediate conclusions from 12 months in isolation.

This year is the same. It is both understandable, and perhaps important, to enjoy the fact that many pundits predicting a further fall were wrong. YouTube and HD televisions did not eat the box office.

In fact, there were some really impressive rises. Korea's 15% increase was the 10th year of growth in a row. But many strong-looking figures come with provisos. China's 30% leap has to be taken in the context of a system that fiercely controlled the cinema economy.

Germany's 9.8% revenue rise year-on-year, for example, follows an 18% drop in 2005. Argentina's 20% revenue growth was largely the result of ticket price rises and admissions actually fell. The UK's virtually flat year-on-year performance is actually among the more impressive of the year, given that it avoided the big 2005 dip.

Studio films

The huge success of a few titles last year did not necessarily reveal much more than they were liked more than those of 2005, although perhaps the lack of influence of critics on blockbusters is significant.

It is certainly true that the year's success was built on strong sequels, remakes and adaptations: Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Da Vinci Code, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest topped most national charts.

The argument that this was a case of the studios going back to basics in response to a disappointing 2005 does not hold water as this year's hits were in production before the 2005 flops had become clear.

The emphasis on franchises and familiar themes reflects a growing understanding that the issue for the international market is not one of distribution but of marketing. There was a period when both studios and independents felt the way to reach across national markets was to find lowest common denominators that would work. One-size did not fit all, however.

Sequels, remakes and adaptations all draw their marketing power from prior knowledge of audiences across the planet. It is not necessarily an easy option. They do not, of course, offer any certainty of success. The format works when the films are appealing or they falter a la Matrix if they go stale.

Local films

There is no questioning that the growth in market share of local films in their home markets was a big box-office story.

China again posted big numbers but the authorities helped the ratio along by systematically dumping the Hollywood incumbents, sometimes mid-run, to make way for local films.

Local-production market share jumped in Germany from 17% to 23%, heavily boosted by Constantin's Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, a French-German-Spanish co-production that has made an impact on the international market.

Increased production has made a big difference in many areas and the studios have created space for growth by concentrating their efforts on blockbusters and smaller films. Local films have also been spurred by local public subsidies and incentives - now strengthened through 'cultural tests' for tax breaks.

Those areas that have been less successful are now looking at basing public policy on fewer films making a bigger box-office impact.

In Sweden, for example, local production admissions dropped by 300,000, or 9%, despite the release of 36 titles. And that in the market which grew around 5% overall last year.

The Swedish Film Institute aims to fund around 20 productions with an average of 40% of the budget and to provide more funding for development and competence in finance, budgeting and marketing to assure product

Local commercial focus

The local hit has generally succeed by playing the same game as the studios. Familiarity and family friendliness were the key marketing tricks - hence sequels, local stars and animation did well in many markets.

The best example comes from the UK with the fantastic success of James Bond's latest outing, Casino Royale - a film that showed a familiar genre can be reworked to give it a fresh feel. France's top local hit was the third in Patrice Leconte's Les Bronzes series.

Brazil's big homegrown hit was romantic comedy If I Were You, which owed much of its success to two of Brazilian television's best-known soap stars, Gloria Pires and Tony Ramos. Drawing on TV celebrity has become a growing theme in recent years from Shaun Of The Dead to (T)Raumschiff Surprise.

Perhaps also there has been a much smarter distribution strategy for local films in some countries. In France, at least some of the success of Les Bronzes 3 came down to a strategy of early release in February.

The biggest hits of the past several years have found a strong audience niche with early release dates - Brice De Nice (April), The Chorus (March), Amelie (April). In other words, what really matters for local success is smart marketing and playing to the audience comfort zone. In fact, the challenging film-makers sometimes turn out to be prophets unrecognised in their own country.

This year's hit Greek films, for example, were either comedies (Extended Play, Straight Story) or satirical approaches of issues of national interest (Loafing And Camouflage: Sirens In The Aegean).

But the Greeks were more interested in the foreign arthouse fare, such as Babel and Volver, than acclaimed serious work from homegrown auteurs. Constantine Giannaris' Berlin-hailed Hostage bombed at the box office.

One last note worth bearing in mind is that we judge a year by the success of the few. Production has been rising over recent years. Most of those films failed to find an audience, a fact that is already driving new media development.

Even in China, the Film Bureau revealed that while annual production volumes rose 26% to 330 films in 2006, only 30% made it to the theatres. Not many countries will be able to match the Chinese solution of just building more cinemas.

Nonetheless, some of that local success may have come at the expense of international titles, which might have been expected to find success outside their national borders.

The resurgence of Japanese local productions at the home box office, for example, is squeezing out films from other Asian countries which have relied on Japanese sales to justify budgets. Last year, Taiwan's Silk and Hong Kong Berlin entry Isabella failed to find a distributor in Japan.

It is not a simple model. A number of great independent films, particularly those with a major festival track record, played exceptionally well.

Brokeback Mountain took an impressive $158m worldwide, Pedro Almodovar's Volver has grossed more than $70m and Mel Gibson's Apocalypto enjoyed the biggest foreign-language opening weekend in the UK, taking $2.6m. Perhaps 2006 proved not only that there is an appetite for cinema but also that there is not enough space to accommodate all of those appetites, or a cost-effective means to market to them.

Where there is simple capacity for more screens, such as China, Russia and the Middle East, strong growth is possible. The number of screens in the United Arab Emirates for example has doubled since 2000 and Dodona is predicting a 21% rise

in admissions. And that returns us to the back story of 2006 - the growth of the internet and new media platforms.

It seemed no day went by without some development and this week we saw another big move in the market with Apple announcing a content download deal with Paramount for its new iPhone service. If 2006 was about unmet appetites, a new media boom for the film industry is an inevitability.