Blockbusted

Ticket sales down sharply at German cinemas

Programmkino
Source: DPA

Are these the dying days of conventional German cinemas? The latest figures for movie theater ticket sales for the country’s 4,880 screens don’t bode well in this era of online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Mubi.

Sales in the first half of 2018 fell by 15 percent to 51 million tickets compared with the same period last year. Cinema revenues shrank to €439 million ($506 million) from around €519 million, according to figures from Germany’s FFA national film board, which also funds productions.

The FFA blames the dramatic decline on the dearth of Hollywood blockbusters. Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony and Fox all failed to produce megahits of the caliber of Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter capable of dragging Germans away from their widescreen TVs and into theaters.

“The cinema business lives off the attractiveness of the films on offer and really big successes have been lacking,” said FFA head Peter Dinges. Hollywood premiered only 70 movies in the first 6 months, more than 20 percent down from last year.

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The most successful film was “Avengers: Infinity War,” a science fiction action movie made by Disney’s Marvel Studios, which attracted 3.3 million viewers in Germany.

Netflix and Amazon are also eating into ticket sales by providing their own exclusive big-budget series for home viewing. “That’s an enormous challenge for cinemas,” said Herbert Kloiber, a German film producer and distributor. “The big talent in Hollywood, the directors, screenwriters and actors, are being drawn into making series. It’s changing people’s viewing habits.”

The German film industry isn’t helping. Only three of the most-watched movies this year were German productions. Two of them were children’s films (“Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver” with 1.6 million viewers and “The Little Witch” with 1.5 million). The third was the tragicomedy “This Crazy Heart” with 1.3 million.

Hollywood’s weakness drove the market share of German film productions up to 22 percent from 18 percent. But they still only attracted 11 million viewers.

Media entrepreneurs like Mr. Kloiber said the FFA was partly to blame. “German film sponsorship is a total failure. We have a huge structural problem,” he said, adding that the FFA was promoting the wrong kinds of films.

He predicted that visitor numbers in Germany were likely to fall below 100 million this year from 122 million in 2017 and that cinemas will start running into financial trouble if the downturn continues. “Prices at the box office can’t be increased any further,” he warned. They currently average €8.63.

Hans-Peter Siebenhaar is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Vienna and specializes in media and telecommunications coverage. To contact the author: siebenhaar@handelsblatt.com

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