Movie theaters versus platforms: war or coexistence? | Culture

On Friday, in his X account, Juan Antonio Bayona celebrated that The Snow Society had exceeded 500,000 spectators in theaters. A spectacular figure for a film that has been available since January 4 on Netflix (the platform that produced it) and that Yelmo and Cinesa, the two largest movie theater chains in Spain, have refused to release.

In his career at the Oscars, in which he is nominated in two categories, Bayona has thanked and encouraged both the audiences in the movie theaters and on the platform. This Saturday he called a world event at nine at night (Spanish peninsular time) to see his film on a watch party on Netflix: whoever signed up for that viewing would have access to comments from the team and the survivors on whose true story the film is based, who would also be connected live, and to unpublished material. And the more the merrier… for the service of streaming. The Snow Society occupies, according to ranking of Netflix's most popular non-English-speaking films – updated on February 18 -, second position after Troll. It has 89.2 million views and 217 million hours of consumption (here it beats troll, but because the Norwegian one is shorter), a list that takes into account only the first 91 days in which the film has been available.

Actually, The Snow Society It is the exception that proves the rule: large chains do not like to release films that will soon end up on digital platforms. Luis Gil, general director of the Federation of Cinemas of Spain (FECE), which represents more than 80% of businessmen in the sector, explains: “We assume and understand that platforms are here to stay and we hope that they are complementary to theaters. cinema”. And he goes beyond the financial: “A film that is released in theaters has a first exploitation that not only provides an economic return, but also has a social and cultural media impact. And that does not have to clash or compete with the film itself continuing its exploitation process in other windows. There is no reason to enter into a war, but rather we must be complementary. “We are all part of a film development chain.”

But the war is real. Both Yelmo and Cinesa have refused to respond to EL PAÍS's questions for this report. “The pandemic accelerated certain pernicious policies, and the rooms became a laboratory of strategies for a fight that even occurs between the platforms themselves,” says Gil. “We do not understand the strategies of not releasing in theaters. “It makes us uncomfortable that the Spanish Oscar candidate instrumentalizes cinemas for particular interests, and that some platforms only launch products on the big screen to qualify for awards.” He goes further: “Films are made, and so their creators say, to be seen on the big screen.”

As the cinema law has remained in the middle of its parliamentary process, FECE hopes that exhibition windows will be protected in some way: in Spain, theaters ask for 112 days of exclusivity before moving to DVD, platforms or pay television. “We have asked the new minister to regulate this.” In 2022 only 21% of the premieres respected those 16 weeks. “It is not fair to have a release whose poster already announces that in three weeks you will see it digitally. We ask for about 90 days, understanding that each premiere is different. We are the last and weakest link in this cinematographic chain, the platforms are now very powerful and use their strength,” explains Gil.

The latest example came this past Friday with the documentary You are not alone: ​​the fight against La Manada, which has reached a handful of theaters with a poster announcing that next Friday, March 1, it will be available on Netflix. On this platform they are clear and in writing they respond to a questionnaire: “Every year we bring films to theaters, about 30. We respect the business model of theaters, ours is simply different, we are a subscription company and we offer our members exclusive movies on Netflix.” And regarding this theater/platform combination, they insist: “Our release plans are adapted to each film. The theaters are important for some filmmakers and/or are a requirement for some festivals and awards.” Apple TV, which this season has released one of its most talked-about titles in theaters, The assassins of the moon, by Martin Scorsese, He has also refused to respond to EL PAÍS.

In Spain, according to December data from the National Securities Market Commission, 35.8% of households access a content payment platform on-line; 25.9% use two; 18.6%, three, and 19.7%, four or more. In summary, two out of every three households access at least one web platform, and Netflix is ​​the preferred one in four out of ten homes, followed by Amazon Prime Video (22%) and Movistar+ (13%).

Cinemas of the Cinesa chain in Madrid last May.
Cinemas of the Cinesa chain in Madrid last May.Claudio Alvarez

Adolfo Blanco, executive director of the production and distribution company A Contracorriente Films and the Verdi theaters, distributed in 2018 Rome, by Alfonso Cuarón, Netflix's first major release in theaters. “We study each film, and if we think it will attract our audience, we program it. From Rome here, time has confirmed our steps. In this industry, the one who has the upper hand is the exhibitor, and if a film doesn't work, they mercilessly take it away from you.” And how has it been The Snow Society? “In our rooms in Barcelona there were even queues. It is a shame that more networks have not opted for it.” And he emphasizes: “Netflix entered like an elephant in a china shop, betting on home cinema, and I understand that those beginnings hurt some exhibitors. Today it is a completely different company.” He ends: “The end of the pandemic has altered the policy of other platforms more, such as Disney +, which has rushed back to theaters, than that of Netflix, which has had a more fluid evolution.”

Film analyst Pau Brunet explains from Los Angeles: “This battle between theaters and platforms also occurs in the US. Netflix has already stressed that it is not going to change its modus operandi, “They are not going to renegotiate with the cinemas.” Brunet delves into the fact that each platform is different: “The main business of Amazon or Apple is not cinema, nor even user loyalty, as is the case with Netflix. Behind Netflix there is no financial muscle that can withstand failures; “Behind Apple TV and Prime Video there are two economic monsters.” How much more would you have raised? The Snow Society If I had had a medium launch? “Surely more. But be careful, just because it goes to more screens does not mean that the box office will grow exponentially. Netflix invested heavily in the launch, for example. And Bayona has dedicated itself to its promotion.”

Without these platforms, neither Scorsese nor Bayona would have raised the financing for their films (according to unofficial estimates, The Snow Society It has cost about 60 million euros, and the Ministry of Culture database shows that 90% was put on by Netflix USA). Or Paula Ortiz, with Prime Video, her approach to the historical character of Hildegart Rodríguez; or Icíar Bollaín, Alejandro Amenábar, Alberto Rodríguez, Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Oliver Laxe, who will film this year with the majority production of Movistar+, would not have an economic basis for their new projects.

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese, on the set of 'Killers on the Moon'.
Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese, on the set of 'Killers on the Moon'.MELINDA SUE GORDON / APPLE TV+.

This Saturday, Bayona explained: “After a decade trying to raise financing through traditional exhibition windows, we reached a production agreement with Netflix. In that agreement we made its release in movie theaters essential. And the platform agreed, and in its premiere on the big screen it significantly increased both the weeks of local exclusivity and the number of screens on which it would be projected. “It was three weeks and 110 theaters, just at Christmas, when film consumption was enormous.” The filmmaker, four-time winner of the Goya for best director, reflects: “I have promoted it in all formats. It has been an impressive success on the platform, they estimate that it has achieved about 200 million viewers. And at the same time I have accompanied the film in theaters, presenting the film alone or with actors wherever I could: Zaragoza, Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona… Every week I have been in a city. And the result seems great to me considering that it is a limited release, and it has remained among the ten most viewed after 11 weeks in theaters.”

Slow recovery

According to the ministry's figures, which lag behind the information from Bayonne, The Snow Society It has accumulated 3.1 million euros and 465,429 spectators. Since Netflix refuses to provide more data, the financial career of the film has never been reflected in the weekly list of the top 20 at the Spanish box office compiled by the ComScore auditor. Although with those amounts it would probably still appear in that ranking. This weekly list also serves as a first approximation to a painful fact: the box office of Spanish movie theaters has not yet recovered from the disaster of the pandemic. In 2023, Spanish theaters grossed 487.5 million euros with 74.9 million tickets sold. It is 26% more than in 2022 (360 million), but far from the last pre-pandemic year, 2019, when it reached 624 million.

The actor Enzo Vogrincic and Juan Antonio Bayona, on the filming of 'The Snow Society'.
The actor Enzo Vogrincic and Juan Antonio Bayona, on the filming of 'The Snow Society'.QUIM VIVES (Netflix)

Pau Brunet explains about the success of The Snow Society: “The film found great resonance only after the release on the platform on January 4. The theatrical release 20 days earlier achieved a minor echo, very cinephile.” The film has never been on more than 120 screens, of the 3,591 that are active in 751 cinema complexes (half were grouped in Andalusia, Catalonia and the Community of Madrid), according to the latest data from 2023. An average premiere, of the which are among the ten highest grossers, is released in at least 200 theaters. In December, the Government allocated 12.8 million euros to aid to theaters with the aim of “promoting their activity, a determining factor for the film sector; and, on the other hand, facilitate access to a cinematographic culture that is as diverse as possible.”

In the rest of Europe there are territories where local attendance has recovered like that of 2020, and others that are going through, like Spain, their particular journey through the desert. According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, the combined box office of the countries of the Council of Europe (except Azerbaijan) in 2023 totaled 859 million tickets, 18.1% more than last year, but still far from the 1,110 million tickets of 2019. Added to the pandemic were delays in releases forced by strikes by Hollywood performers and scriptwriters. If the range is specified in the Europe of 27, the recovery is greater, 22.8% compared to 2022 and reaches 661 million tickets. Countries like France (which is also the European nation in which the most tickets are sold, 180.8 million last year), Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Georgia have already reached the 2019 figures or are about to do so.

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