-25% attendance in Occitania compared to pre Covid

Even if Occitanie’s arthouse cinema recorded an increase in attendance compared to 2021, they had yet to find it pre-Covid. In question? The health crisis has resulted in a lasting change in moviegoing habits. But that’s not the only one. Jean Villa, director of the Véo Cinémas network and associate treasurer of arthouse cinemas in the Greater South-West Cinephilae, surveyed the situation in Occitania, identified reasons that explain why audiences are leaving dark rooms and expressed optimism for thatwhich will come.

The Veo Cinema in Colomiers embodies the modernization of the “arthouse” sector ©David Aubert-ID Ciné

Jean Villa, how is the current situation of the 147 arthouse cinemas in Occitanie, both in terms of attendance and turnover?

Recently, we have observed two phenomena. Compared to 2021, the year we were able to reopen cinemas after the health crisis, attendance increased by 50% in Occitania. But this figure is of course misleading and not very representative. We prefer to compare to so-called “normal” years like 2019, 2018, and 2017. And there, we recorded a 25% drop over these pre-Covid years. This means that we are still suffering from the health crisis.

Regarding turnover, it correlates directly with the number of admissions to art house cinemas because we operate very little in ancillary activities, such as confectionery. Thus, in Occitania, cinema turnover has also fallen by 25% compared to 2019.

Do some art houses work better than others?

Granted, all art-house cinemas don’t feature the same makeover. Several companies classified as “art and essay” also offer generalist films. These do better, their room for significant improvement. It’s more difficult for theaters that only show arthouse films exclusively. However, the latter could benefit from a more substantial film offering than generalist theaters, which are suffering from the absence of American productions in the summer of 2022. As a reminder, approximately two years pass between the time the film was made and its theatrical release. So, all filming was halted in 2020 due to Covid, at the moment it feels like it’s lacking. The proof: “Top Gun – Maverick” remained on display for five months, from May to September 2022. And in September, he was the one with the most entries. Usually, a film only lasts a maximum of two months. So this is not a normal situation.

In the face of declining audience numbers, should Occitania’s arthouse cinemas be closed?

Not ! After all, not because of the health crisis. This is thanks to the massive support of the profession by public authorities. We are benefiting from partial unemployment and we are getting significant sectoral assistance. So, speaking of accounting, we can even say that 2021 wasn’t so bad…

How do you explain the neglect of the darkroom since 2021?

In my opinion, there are several reasons for the decline in the number of viewers. First, the supply deficit, as we have mentioned.

Then, the arbitration of the producers, who decide, voluntarily, not to release the film in theaters, but on streaming platforms. For example, Martin Scorsese offered “The Irishman” only on Netflix, while Disney reserved its “Soul” release for its own Disney+ platform. But this trend shouldn’t last long, for the simple and good reason that producers only receive the agreed fee during the contract with the platform, regardless of the success of the film. By going to the cinema, they ensure remuneration in proportion to the number of entries. Which is often better for them.

Then comes the choice of the audience. Households that subscribed to these streaming platforms during the lockdown are now looking to amortize their investment and are therefore opting for the movies offered on TV to the detriment of cinema outings. If this phenomenon tends to diminish somewhat, supporting family outings to the movies or with your partner… is still significant. Having a consequent bid at home, the viewer does not want, or cannot, spend much more when going to the room.

Moreover, the price of cinemas, in my opinion, is the fourth reason why people avoid them. I personally am very embarrassed by the price of admission to mainstream cinemas: around 20 euros. By imposing these prices, these companies have pulled their popular characters from theaters. However, you should know that many films, even the largest productions, are also shown in arthouse cinemas, for 6 euros…

Therefore, Arthouse cinema has not yet returned to its pre-Covid situation… when new difficulties were looming, in particular rising energy prices. How will the cost of electricity impact their financial health?

We have to make up for the recorded -25% turnover in 2022, while, it is true, facing new challenges. Most theaters saw their power contracts expire and had to renegotiate during the year. Because if this expense item represented 5 euros per session, it now amounts to 20 to 25 euros. So, with a 6 euro entry ticket, half of it goes to distributors, 1 euro is deducted for various taxes, the 2 euros then remain in the cinema to ensure staff remuneration and pay for running costs, knowing that currently it’s electricity only. cost 1€. It is untenable.

To support the arthouse cinema in Occitania, the Region has maintained the “La salle d’à cote” operation, which it launched in 2021. Thus, hosting various events in secret venues to encourage public return. Does it work?

The principle of animation that is in line with the screening of this film is sure to attract more viewers. This is a plus. However, these are scattered events, one-time devices. Therefore we propose to the Regions to establish a “cinema mediator”. The latter, assigned to a single site or to a network of rooms, can manage these types of operations on a more regular basis, support professionals on a daily basis and have a lasting impact on attendance…

Does this observation lead you to envision the diversification possibilities of art-house cinema?

Modernization of structures that have become more ecological, more comfortable… yes. Diversification, not necessarily. Beware of fake good ideas. Let me explain: what is the strength of art-house cinema today is being able to offer movies to as many people as possible at a low price. This is no longer possible if we set a new activity for each film, because they have a fee that we have to pass on to the admission price.

Do you think the sector will be able to return to pre-Covid levels? What are the prospects?

I’m not too worried. I’m pretty optimistic. Cinema attendance is always cyclical. And I think that if we manage to maintain that rapport with the audience, which is in the DNA of art-house cinema, they will come back. We must continue to offer them personalized offers, to welcome them in the warm and humane way we know how to do, to give them advice, to discuss with them. It will take a little time, but I remain confident for the future.

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