German Box Office Fell 15 Percent to $1 Billion in 2018

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Blockbusters underperforming and a slump in 3D revenue had more of an impact on theatrical performance than Netflix, the German Film Board concludes.

For theater owners in Germany, 2018 was, to put it bluntly, truly scheisse.

Box office revenue, as reported in official figures from the German Film Board on Wednesday, fell a stunning 15 percent from 2017, to just over $1 billion (893 million euros).

While last year's soccer World Cup, and a record hot summer — traditionally factors that keep German filmgoers away from theaters — had an impact, the German Film Board said the real culprit behind the box office slump “lay elsewhere.” 

Many in the film industry in Europe have pointed the finger at Netflix, claiming the streaming service is cannibalizing the theater-going audience, particularly when it refuses to give its own high-profile film titles — like Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-winner Roma — a wide release before putting them online.

However, the German Film Board begs to differ. According to its figures, 55 percent of German SVOD consumers also bought at least one movie ticket in 2018 and, on average, they went to the theater more often than non-SVOD users. In total, some 28 percent of German cinemagoers in 2018 were also customers of at least one SVOD service, compared with 23 percent the year earlier.

So, Netflix isn't killing the movie star — at least, not in Germany.

The German Film Board pointed to a sharp drop in revenue for U.S. blockbusters released in Germany. The revenue for the top 10 most successful films in Germany last year fell 30 percent compared with 2017. Fully two-thirds of the overall decline in box office last year was due to this falloff. Germany, which traditionally measures theatrical success by admissions, not revenue, had three films that sold between 4 and 6 million tickets in 2017. Last year, there wasn't a single film that cracked the 4 million admissions barrier.

Alongside and connected to the blockbuster slump, 3D revenue fell sharply in Germany, dropping 30 percent year-on-year: 8.3 million German fans paid extra for a 3D ticket last year, compared with 10.2 million in 2017. Forty-eight percent of theatergoers took the 3D option when offered, with 52 percent preferring the less-expensive 2D ticket. In 2017, those figures were reversed.

“Overall, we found that while as many people went to the movies (in 2018), they did so less often,” noted Frank Volkert, deputy head of the German Film Board. “SVOD is undoubtably an important factor in the development of the market but it appears that for 2018 the quality of the film offering was the reason people went to the theaters less often.”