To understand the position of American motion pictures in Europe, one must look at quantitative measures of various sorts. To do so also establishes the relationship between American films and those from other producing nations.
Several scales should be available for a broad and intensive analysis. Ideally, for a given European nation, one wants to know how many domestic and imported feature films were released, what companies distributed these films, the share of screen time achieved by various nationalities, and how the box office receipts were divided among them. A firm basis for analysis would exist if these data were available for all years since 1945, for all countries, and in a form suitable for cross-country examination.
Unfortunately, such a Utopian condition does not exist, because each nation selects and makes available only the information it considers important.1 Even when several nations seem to be measuring the same thing they may be using different yardsticks. On the elementary question of foreign films coming into a country, several standards exist. One nation may state this in terms of total meters of exposed film imported. Another nation may decide to tabulate the number of pictures that have actually gone through the customs office. A third may base its measure on the number submitted to censorship. And a fourth country may count the business licenses issued which permit films to be exhibited. None of these measures, however, really indicates the number of films released and put on the market (although they do provide clues). Further complications are introduced when the version of the film is considered. Is the subtitled version the one to be tabulated, the dubbed version, or both? And if the picture is a bipart or tripart coproduction, to which country is the film credited?
On financial matters, which are even more complex, there is a general dearth of reliable material. Universally, revenue figures are treated as business secrets. Even if a government bureau or a trade association is authorized to collect and tabulate such data, there is no assurance that they will be made public in meaningful form. Problems of definition become important because gross box office receipts are divided in many ways. One share remains with the exhibitor; another may go to the government’s treasury as an entertainment tax; one part may be diverted to a national fund to help production; and still another portion is taken by distributors of newsreels and short films. The residue is for distributors of both domestic and imported feature films, and the distributors, in turn, pass a part of this share to producers or investors. Thus, it becomes essential to know whether figures refer to gross box office receipts, net receipts, or the distributor’s share.
The statistical material in this discussion (presented in comparative tables following) is derived almost exclusively from official government or industry trade association figures. Of course, some information from other sources is available but in numerous cases this unofficial material lacks standardization and definition, and cannot be considered reliable.
The previous chapter pointed out that the quantity of American films in Europe has been the primary reason for the erection of protective schemes. Evidence to support this must consider the number of American pictures available for marketing in various nations. This is a two-fold measure, for it implies, first, a count of films imported annually and, second, the number actually released, or authorized to be released, by distributors for exhibition.
Concerning the number of films imported, data can be presented for Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. On the second point, three similar measures are available from ten countries: films censored or authorized for exhibition in Denmark, Ireland, and Spain; films registered with the Board of Trade for distribution in the United Kingdom; and films released in Italy, West Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
Table 1, films imported by Italy, counts titles brought into the country whether they are in subtitled or dubbed form. The American industry in 1946 sent six hundred films to Italy, while in 1966 the number was only 155, about a 75 percent reduction. The data indicate that in the years immediately following World War II, large numbers of American films flowed into certain European markets. From 1946 to 1949 inclusive, the United States accounted for 2,277 of the 3,187 films imported by Italy, 71 percent of the total. The decade of the 1950’s was one in which imports from America declined from near four hundred to slightly more than two hundred. By way of comparison with the four postwar years, importation of American films from 1963 to 1966 inclusive accounted for 651 of a total 1,196, or approximately 54 percent.
The effectiveness of import restrictions in Italy is apparent. The Andreotti Act came into force in July, 1949, and placed a tax on imported dubbed films. From a high figure of 668 in 1948, imports of American pictures dropped to 502 in 1949 and 394 in 1950, the first full year during which the law was operative. A further decline occurred in 1951, resulting from negotiations between the MPEA and ANICA. The agreement reached by the two associations provided that a maximum of 285 dubbed American films could be imported annually into Italy, 225 by American distributors and the remainder by Italian distributors. While the data in Table 1 are not confined solely to dubbed versions, they do point out that overall importation was reduced substantially at the time the MPEA-ANICA agreement became final.
Italy abolished import restrictions in 1962. The reason is apparent in the figures for the importation of American films in 1960, 1961, and 1962. In those years, only 477 American pictures were brought into the country. During the same period, the Italian industry produced more than six hundred feature films, some in conjunction with American companies.
Table 2 presents similar data for the Netherlands. The years with the largest importation of American films were 1947 through 1950. After that period, American pictures gradually declined to a low of 107 in 1965, less than 30 percent of all imports for the year. In contrast, American films in 1949 accounted for almost 70 percent of all imports.
Data for the importation of feature films in Switzerland are presented in Table 3. Prior to 1958, figures made available concerned only the total footage of imported films, not the actual number of them. However, even for the nine years covered in the table, the relative decline of films with American nationality is evident. In 1958, about four of every ten films imported were American. By 1966, this proportion dropped to about three out of ten. On the other hand, Italy has come up strongly in the last six years. The importation of Italian features reflects not only an increase in production but also the large numbers of Italian workers who have migrated to Switzerland and now constitute a substantial audience for Italian films.
The second broad indicator of films on the market can be considered now. This involves the number of pictures approved for exhibition or actually released. In one sense, this is a more meaningful way of gauging the extent to which American films have penetrated the European market. The effect of their number is felt first when films are released for exhibition.
The Danish data in Table 4, indicating the number of films submitted for censoring, reveal the effect of the MPEA’s boycott of the market. In May, 1955, the American cartel declared a halt to its members’ film shipments to Denmark in protest over rental fees which, it claimed, were too low. This boycott was not terminated officially until May, 1958. The number of films censored, of course, does not reflect the number actually released and exhibited but it is a good measure of the number imported.
After a slight drop to 116 films in the year ending March 31, 1956, American pictures submitted for censorship declined to fifty-five in the year ending March 31, 1957. The following year, there was a three-fold increase but even this cannot compare to the number in the years preceding the boycott. The increase in the 1957-58 period can be attributed to the fact that several exhibitors in Copenhagen decided to increase the rentals they were willing to pay for American pictures. The MPEA accepted these new terms and resumed shipping films, but only to these exhibitors. The data for the boycott years reveal another pertinent point. Imports from Great Britain, Germany, and France increased to offset the decline in the number of American features available. It would seem that the withdrawal of American pictures from the market gave new opportunities for other film producing nations to sell their productions in Denmark.
Data for Ireland in Table 5 indicate the number of films of two thousand feet or more submitted for censorship. There is no language barrier to the circulation of American films there, and, in the absence of other restrictions, American pictures are freely importable. The figures disclose the decline in the number of American features available. In 1951, of 520 films submitted for censoring, American films numbered 454, or 87 percent. By 1966, American features dropped to 191 out of 326, or only 59 percent. Of course, British producers also have found Ireland to be an attractive market.
Table 6 presents data on the number of feature films authorized for exhibition in Spain. It should be recalled from the previous chapter that the MPEA imposed a boycott of the Spanish market from mid- 1955 to 195S. The number of American films authorized for exhibition in 1956, 1957, and 1958 reflects this. During those years, only 169 American pictures were approved, which is only slightly more than the total for 1954 alone. In Spain, as was true during the boycott of Denmark, importation of films from Britain, France, and Italy increased during the boycott period. In the five years following 1958 the effect of the import quota is apparent, as an average of ninety-eight American films were authorized for exhibition each year. In the mid-1960’s, liberalization of Spain’s trade policy is reflected in the increase of films of American nationality.
A measure of films on the market in Great Britain is provided by Board of Trade registration figures in Table 7. Although nationality categories are not complete to the early postwar years, total imports are listed, and an important point can be drawn from them. In August, 1947, as a result of a 75 percent duty placed on imported films, the MPEA declared a boycott of the British market. The registration year April 1, 1947, to March 31, 1948, covers the period of this seven-month boycott. The data indicate that imports did fall, although not substantially, from previous years. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many of the 301 foreign films in the 1947-48 period were registered before the import tax became effective and how many of these were American. Nor is there a way of determining what the magnitude of imports would have been had there been no duty.
One point does stand out, however. During the boycott period, British film production increased sharply, and 170 features were registered during the 1947-48 year. This mark has not been approached, let alone exceeded, since that time. It seems that the MPEA’s decision to withhold films from the market spurred British film producers. An additional impetus came from the high screen quota of 45 percent set for the 1948-49 year.
On another matter, Table 7 repeats the decline in availability of new American pictures that has been evident for countries already examined. In 1949-50, the 392 American films accounted for 69 percent of the 571 films registered. In calendar year 1966, the 146 American pictures represented only 40 percent of the 372 registrations. If only imported films are considered for the same years, then American pictures in 1949-50 accounted for almost 89 percent of foreign registrations, but in 1966 they represented only 51 percent.
As the decline in production in the United States has resulted in the diminishing availability of new American films in the United Kingdom, importation of features from France and Italy has been increased. In the 1949-50 year, the twenty-nine films from these two countries represented only 6 percent of all imports registered. In 1966, the two exported eighty-nine films, including coproductions, to the United Kingdom, and these accounted for 31 percent of foreign registrations.
Data for Italy in Table 8 refer to the number of films in Italian version released annually from 1950 through 1965. “Italian version” means films with Italian language sound tracks—foreign films dubbed into Italian and Italy’s own production. There are some differences between this table and Table 1. The latter presented figures for imported films, dubbed or subtitled. Table 8 gives data for released Italian language pictures. Furthermore, the importation of a certain film in, say, 1959, does not necessarily mean that it was released in Italy the same year.
The downward trend in the number of dubbed American releases is clear. From a high of 290 in 1952, the figure for the United States falls to 140 in 1965. The pattern is repeated if American films are considered as a percentage of total films released for certain years. During 1950, 1951, and 1952, 756 dubbed American films were released out of a total 1,474. These American features accounted for 51 percent. In 1963, 1964, and 1965, there were 458 American releases out of 1,570. American films during that period represented only 29 percent of all releases.
The data reveal that Italy’s own production has increased, due to American investment and the growth of coproduction among European nations. In 1950, 1951, and 1952, the 359 Italian pictures represented only 24 percent of the total number of releases. In 1963 through 1965, Italy released 719 features, 46 percent of the total, with the highest point in 1964.
Table 9, for feature films released in West Germany, reveals some similarities with the Italian market. During the sixteen years covered in the table, releases from the United States declined from about five out of ten films in 1951 to three out of ten in 1966. British and Italian pictures have increased numerically and proportionally. The number of French features released reached a peak in 1960 and has fallen off considerably since then. In one respect, this has been offset by the significant rise in French-Italian coproductions. In 1951, they accounted for less than 1 percent of total foreign releases while in 1966 they represented 10 percent. Taken as a unit, French, Italian, and French-Italian films accounted for a quarter of all releases in 1966.
Difficulties facing West Germany’s own film industry are reflected in its feature production, and therefore in its releases. The number climbed steadily until the late 1950’s when a reverse trend set in. In 1966, only sixty-five German films were released (half were coproduced), compared to 123 in 1955 and 1956 (less than a tenth were coproduced).
Data in Table 10 for Austria disclose that it has been a consistently good market for West German films. Few are produced which are not released there. Concerning American films in Austria, their high point occurred in the mid- 1950’s but they have since declined to about 36 percent of all releases. The small number of them in the late 1940s might reflect reluctance on the part of American companies to export to a market from which they could not withdraw their earnings or spend them internally. This was true for West Germany, as a later chapter points out.
The number of films released annually in Sweden, Norway, and Finland are presented in Tables 11, 12, and 13, respectively. As for other European markets, the data here indicate the diminishing number of American releases. The most striking example is Finland where only ninety-four American features were released in 1966. This reflects our declining production as well as the reduction of theatres in Finland. There were 620 houses in 1958 but only 370 in 1966, thus creating a demand for fewer films. This also is apparent in the total number of releases which has fallen below the three hundred level during the last four years. Ten years earlier, more than four hundred films were available annually.
So far, data have concerned only the importation and release of American pictures in various European nations. It is unfortunate that figures going back to 1946 are not obtainable for some countries. But based upon the evidence available, a few comments can be made.
The peak years for the importation, censorship, or release of films with American nationality occur between 1946 and 1951 for eight countries: Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Sweden. For Denmark, the peak falls in the year between April 1, 1951, and March 31, 1952, thus overlapping significantly the period for the other eight. West Germany, although a special case because of the Occupation, received its greatest annual supply of American pictures in 1952. Even Austria registered a small peak in 1950, although the major one occurred five years later.
On this basis, it can be seen that the postwar wave of American exportation to Europe reached its climax within six years after the end of hostilities. Yet this was precisely the period when American film production began declining. According to Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures, American releases in the United States during the 1941-45 period averaged 425 films annually. But between 1946 and 1950, an average of only 370 pictures were released each year. This suggests that Hollywood was sending to some European countries films made during the war which could not have been exported when new, because of hostilities. This was also the time of relatively free access to many European markets before trade barriers were erected.
Hollywood production slumped steadily until 1954 when it hit a trough with only 253 films. From 1955 through 1957, there was a temporary recovery in production and this is reflected in the flow of films to Europe. The 1957 peak in the United States (300 films) was reflected in 1957 or 1958 in virtually all nations under consideration. Of course, the MPEA boycotts of Spain and Denmark held down the quantity of American features in those countries.
In 1958, American production began a steady decline that was to be more serious than the short dips which had preceded. From the early 1950’s, many countries on the continent had been importing annually between 200 and 250 American films. In 1958, American production fell below 250 and in 1959 below 200. To exhibitors who had come to depend upon a steady flow of American pictures, the decline presented problems. Rather than with an oversupply, they were faced with a shortage. Film producing nations of Europe, of course, increased their own exportation to help fill the gap. American producers responded, not by increasing production, but by reissuing old films.
For example, data for 1960 indicate that in addition to Ireland and the United Kingdom, the major markets of Italy and West Germany, and the smaller markets of Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria were receiving more American features than were released in the United States (154). American producers, through their distributors, sought to maximize profit on their investments, not by producing more, but by rereleasing their films. In this way, the production decline put American producers in a more favorable position. Europe could absorb not only their new films but some of their old ones as well. Such was also the case with Great Britain between 1954 and 1963. Even though the number of theatres declined from about 4,500 to less than 2,500 in that decade, 2,310 American pictures were registered. Meanwhile in the United States, only 2,060 American films were reported to have been released.
Another factor bearing on the matter has to do with the nationality attributed to particular films. Although a later chapter discusses this in more detail, it should be noted here that the nationality can vary as a film circulates from country to country. This problem has become severe during the 1960s with increased American investment in European production. A film shot in Italy, for example, might well have Italian nationality in that country. But when the same film is exported to, say, Norway, it might be considered American because of the extensive American investment in it. Thus, a film not made in the United States can carry American nationality. Furthermore, when it is released in this country, in all likelihood it will be recognized here as a foreign film. Considered on this basis, it is not surprising that some countries can see more “American” films than America can.
Throughout Europe films from the United States have been present in greater numbers than have local films. But granting their number, how have they fared at the box office relative to their competitors? Little evidence is obtainable to answer this question, but a small conjecture can be made. Of interest is the share of the box office accruing to American films for it is this share which is denied to producers in European nations.
In recent years, Italy has been the largest non-English-speaking market for American films. Table 14 indicates that American pictures in 1965 had a gross box office of $104,700,000 in Italy, or 41 percent of the total. In percentage terms, this is the smallest share of the box office American films have had since Italy began publishing statistics on this matter in 1950. In that year, American pictures captured 67 percent of the gross but this amounted to only $68,300,000.
The data reveal that American earnings have not kept pace with the growing Italian box office. This has more than doubled since 1950, while American earnings have increased only about 50 percent. On the other hand, an interesting point becomes apparent relative to data in Table 8. While the number of American releases has declined from 234 in 1950 to 140 in 1965, the American share of the gross receipts has increased from about $68,000,000 to almost $105,000,000 during the same period. An increase in the number of tickets sold is not necessarily the answer. While a peak was hit in 1955 with 819,000,000 admissions, the number for 1950, 662,000,000, is little different from the 1965 figure of 663,000,000. Neither is higher rental terms an entirely adequate explanation, because the figures under consideration here are gross box office receipts. The rental an exhibitor must pay for a film is not always reflected in gross revenues for the theatre.
Two explanations are possible. First, the number of new films entering a market may not be consistent with the number of films already in circulation. In Italy in 1965, there were about 3,000 American films of all ages available for exhibition, a figure hardly different from that of the early 1950’s. Thus, while the number of new American films declined, the total supply has remained quite constant. Second, the price of admission has increased. The average ticket price in Italy in 1956 was about 148 lire but by 1965 the average had become 240 lire. So a greater American gross could reflect a stable reservoir of films and a higher admission price.
Since 1950, Italian features have experienced a five-fold increase in their gross earnings. In that year they earned about $24,000,000 while in 1965 they grossed almost $120,000,000. Their percentage share of the total box office has increased from only 24 percent in 1950 to 47 percent in 1965. Included, of course, would be some films produced with American investment which would be “Italian” in Italy but perhaps another nationality elsewhere.
Productions from Great Britain also have been doing better than in 1950. They grossed $4,000,000 in that year in contrast to more than $18,000,000 in 1965. The current mediocre earnings for France are somewhat deceptive. In recent years, the majority of French films have been coproduced, chiefly with Italy. When released in Italy, revenues accruing to them are credited to the Italian category. In 1965, for example, almost 70 “Italian” films were, in reality, “Italian-French” productions.
Data in Table 14 referring to the gross box office can provide an indication of the distributors’ share of receipts. Generally, at least 30 percent of the gross reverts to the distributor after deductions are made.2 In other words, 30 percent of $104,700,000 (gross for American pictures in 1965), or $31,400,000, is the approximate share going to companies distributing American pictures. (Almost all important American films, however, are handled by American companies.) When this calculation is applied to the total gross for American films from 1950 to 1965, then the distributors’ share becomes about $450,300,000.
France is another major market for American films, although Table 15 indicates that French pictures consistently have had a better aggregate box office value in their home market than American features. In 1966 for example, French films earned almost twice as much as American films. This contrasts sharply with Italy, for Table 14 disclosed that American pictures have earned more money there than Italian films with the exception of the last three years. The share of the gross French box office for French films has shifted mildly around the 50 percent level with 1965 representing the high point, 55 percent. The American share has declined from 37 percent in 1952 to 28 percent in 1965.
The average distributors’ share of the gross box office receipts in France is about 33 percent. On the basis of an American gross in 1966 of $45,300,000, the distributors of American films received about $14,900,000. However, unofficial American industry figures declare that revenues accruing to American companies in France for the year were about $23,000,000. The difference can be accounted for in two ways. In addition to American films, these companies also distribute non-American pictures and their earnings would be credited toward the $23,000,000. Second, there is American investment in French film production. Revenue from this source would not be reflected in box office receipts for American films but would be tabulated in the earnings of American companies in France.
From 1952 to 1966 inclusive, American pictures in France have accounted for about $643,400,000 of the total gross box office. On the basis of a 33 percent share reverting to distributors, American films have earned approximately $212,300,000. This is less than net earnings for American pictures in Italy. But the gross box office in France is considerably smaller than in Italy and French films in France consistently have captured about half the gross.
The United Kingdom is the largest foreign market for the American film industry. Unofficial American industry figures indicate that companies earned about $48,000,000 there in 1966 (in contrast to about $23,000,000 in France and $33,000,000 in Italy). Earnings of American films, however, can only be estimated because data from the British government are presented for “British” films and all “foreign” films—there being no tabulation of the nationality components of “foreign” earnings.
Table 16 presents gross theatre receipts and the distributors’ share divided between British and foreign pictures. Rental figures for 1965 and 1966 have not been released by the Board of Trade. An outstanding feature is the marked decline in gross receipts from $294,600,000 in 1950 to $166,400,000 in 1966. The drop is even more striking when the 1966 figure is compared to the peak year of 1954 when receipts were $308,000,000. But revenues accruing to British films have not suffered a similar fate. Even though paid admissions are down, British films have earned more than $20,000,000 annually since 1953. In contrast, the rentals for foreign films are now less than two-thirds what they were in 1953. Moreover, the share taken by films with American nationality is probably less than it was in the early 1950’s. Then, practically all imported films were American but in 1965 only half were American.
West Germany is another important market for American films. Although earnings by nationality are not available for the years before 1955, Table 17 indicates that in each year except 1966 American pictures received more than $20,000,000 from the box office. As is the case in other countries, films from Great Britain and Italy have a better box office value today than in the mid-1950’s. An interesting point about the West German market is that Austrian films also are important and their earnings compare favorably with those of the major film producing nations of Europe.
So far, revenues accruing to American pictures in only the larger European nations have been examined here. The survey now considers two of the smaller markets, Denmark and the Netherlands. In these countries, American pictures are faced with different competitive circumstances because each produces very few films.
The division of the distributors’ share of the Danish box office is given in Table 18. Even though it has been increasing since 1950, the American portion has not kept pace. In 1950, the $1,300,000 reverting to distributors of American films accounted for 62 percent of the total share. In 1966, the $3,000,000 earned by American pictures represented only 48 percent of the total distributors’ share.
The effect on American earnings of the MPEA’s boycott of the Danish market is visible in the data. From an amount of $1,400,000 in preboycott 1954, American earnings slid to $1,100,000 in 1955, dropped to $600,000 in 1956, increased by $100,000 in 1957, and recovered to $1,400,000 in 1958. While it is impossible to determine what earnings would have been had there been no boycott, an estimate can be offered based on earnings during the previous years. From 1951 to 1954 inclusive, American pictures returned annually to their distributors a consistent $1,400,000. Assuming this would have been the amount in 1955, 1956, and 1957, then earnings should have been $4,200,000 for these three years. In reality, they were only $2,400,000. On this basis, the boycott cost American companies $1,800,000 in film rentals. The data in Table 18 reveal that the loss to America was a gain for other countries. Earnings of German, French, British, and Danish films increased during the boycott years.
Table 19 presents the net box office receipts for the Netherlands. As far as American earnings are concerned, the situation there is not very different from that in other countries. American films have lost ground at the box office as their actual, as well as percentage, share of the market has declined. In 1947, American pictures had net receipts of $8,400,000 in contrast to the 1966 amount of $7,800,000. Their percentage share of the market has declined from a high of 74 percent in 1949 to 40 percent in 1966.
In the late 1950’s, an important portion of the Dutch box office went to West German films. In 1951, the first year for which West German earnings are given, they accounted for only $500,000 of the net. In 1958, West German films earned $3,900,000. Since then, their revenues have been shrinking; this reflects the trying conditions through which their film industry has been going.
This survey of American films in Europe has covered the number of them available in markets and the revenue accruing from exhibition. Now a third element will be examined—the operation of American distribution companies. Data on this subject is rather spotty but some points stand out.
Table 20 presents a breakdown of the distribution business in France during recent years. Between 1956 and 1965, the total number of distributors in the country declined from 171 to 146. Only a small fraction of this number, however, are national companies servicing the entire country. Of the sixteen national distributors operating in 1956 through 1958, eight were French and eight were American. By 1965, only three French national distributors remained, but seven American companies were still operating. The concentration of business around national companies is apparent in the data. For the years considered, these companies accounted for at least half of the total distribution business in France although they represented only 6 to 10 percent of the operating companies.
Considering American distributors—they have accounted for about 5 percent of all companies but they have had a one-third share of total business. Moreover, they have a virtual monopoly on the distribution of important American films. The data point out that in recent years at least 80 percent of the business flowing from distribution of American pictures fell to American companies.
Table 21 summarizes the activities of American distributors operating in Norway. From 1946 through 1966, they handled more than 2,300 films, approximately 30 percent of the total 7,900. The data reveal that in recent years there has been a slight decline in the number of pictures distributed by these companies. But it is not as great as the drop in Hollywood’s production. It appears that American companies are now acquiring non-American films for distribution to offset the contraction of Hollywood’s supply. It also reflects the growing American investment in foreign film production which gives such companies distribution rights to them.
Four snapshots of film distribution in the United Kingdom are provided in Table 22. One interesting feature is the number of British films handled by American distributors. In 1947, seven American companies distributed 45 percent of all films registered but only 6 percent of the British pictures. In 1951, hardly any change is apparent. But between 1951 and 1958, a significant modification occurred in the policy of American companies. Although their share of all films remained fairly constant, they increased their distribution of British films and handled about a quarter of them. By 1967, American companies were distributing slightly less than half of all British pictures.
The list of distributors in 1967 lacks R.K.O., which dropped out of business, but includes Disney and Warner-Pathé. Concerning the latter, Warner Brothers acted independendy until 1959 when, with Associated British-Pathé, it formed Warner-Pathé, with each company owning half. One could contend that Warner-Pathe should not be listed with American distributors. However, Associated British-Pathé is a subsidiary of Associated British Picture Corporation and a quarter of ABPC’s ordinary shares are in the hands of Warner Brothers. Thus, the half ownership of Warner-Pathé” and the quarter ownership of ABPC gives Warner Brothers an important position in this distribution company. (Between 1945 and 1961, Warner holdings of ABPC amounted to 37.5 percent.) Nonetheless, even if Warner-Pathé is excluded from the America list, the trend toward American distribution of British films is still valid, because 1967 saw 29 percent of them being handled by American companies.
The increased distribution of British films by American companies after 1951 reflects the number of them produced by American firms or financed with American money. This also is the period during which the British production subsidy plan went into effect.
Another dimension can be added to our considerations by data from West Germany showing the ages of American films released in Europe. In examining figures on the number of American features released in a certain country during a given year, one is apt to assume that films offered in, say, 1960, were produced in either that year or the one preceding. The data in Table 23, presenting the production year of films released in West Germany in 1964, indicate quite a different pattern.
Of course, there is bound to be a time lag between completion of production and first release. A generous estimate would allow two years. However, if a film were produced in the United States in 1958 and not released in the German market until 1964, one would have to conclude that it was held back deliberately or that a shortage of new product in 1964 offered the chance to resurrect this picture.
Table 23 points out that of the 124 American releases in 1964, twenty-four were produced in 1961 or earlier. Of these twenty-four films, seventeen were made prior to 1955 with four being in the pre-1940 period. It is apparent that films released in a given year are not necessarily new ones and that some may have needed dusting off before they were reissued, also that films released in 1958 are not necessarily withdrawn in 1959. They continue to be available, and when added to films released in following years, the total grows into a large pool. In a sense, data on the number of annual releases obscure this reservoir of already released films, a group which is considerably larger than the number of new films entering the market each year.
Table 24 presents the number of films in circulation annually in France. The data disclose that the quantity of films in release has fluctuated between a low of about 3,300 and a high of almost 4,100. In 1966, there were 4,078 films available for exhibition, more than 1,100 of them being American pictures of various ages. The total number also includes almost 1,500 French features.
A logical question is: When were all these films released? The answer is provided in Table 25 which indicates the number of films circulating in 1966 broken down by the year of their first release. American films of all ages accounted for 1,131 of the 4,078. This American total was composed of 313 pictures released in 1964 and later, and 818 released for the first time before 1964. The latter figure represents 72 percent of American features exhibited in France during 1966. On the other hand, this same group of pre-1964 films accounted for only 33 percent of the spectators for all American pictures, 36 percent of the performances, and 38 percent of the taxable receipts. On this basis, it is clear that new American films, although accounting for only a quarter of American pictures on the market, get the lion’s share of the business.3
One point remains to be considered before this chapter is concluded. It is the total revenue accruing to pictures with American nationality. Sufficient data are at our disposal about the major markets of the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and West Germany to permit a calculation of the amount of money American films have returned to their distributors during the fifteen-year period 1951 to 1965. While British data do not permit a precise tabulation of net earnings of American films there, enough is known about that market to estimate conservatively that rentals for American features have averaged about $35,000,000 annually for the period under consideration.
From the four markets, and based upon data already presented, American films have returned to their distributors at least $1,500,000,000 from 1951 to 1965 inclusive. In consideration of the smaller markets of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, the figure should be increased by at least $350,000,000. The combined total for these fifteen years then would become almost $1,900,000,000. This is the sum reverting to distributors of American films (mainly American companies); and, of course, a share of it would go to producers.
The figure does not represent the earnings of American companies nor the amount actually remitted to the United States, both being impossible to determine. It should be stressed that this estimate is on the conservative side. Rentals for individual American films have increased in recent years, with some getting as much as 70 percent of the gross in key theatres in certain countries. These high rental rates obviously are diminished in size when the average share of the gross going to distributors is the basis of calculation.
Nevertheless, the money earned by American films represents some loss of revenue to European producers. This amount cannot be estimated in any practical way. The fact that American films are on the market and that they have drawn considerable sums from European box offices means that European producers have that much less opportunity to broaden the base on which they must amortize their investments. However, one new market for European films has opened recently and the next chapter considers it.