Indie sales march to steady beat

Eastern Europe leads way as numbers jump for fifth year

Surging film and TV sales in Eastern Europe have helped float the global independent film sector to yet another year of increased business, according to the latest official stats.

Data compiled by the Independent Film & Television Alliance shows significant dollar sales increases for each of the past five years, and 2006 was no exception. The trade group's member companies generated $3.18 billion in international sales, up from $3.08 billion in 2005.

The most visible jump in business for theatrical, television, pay TV and developing new media was in Eastern Europe, where purchases in 2006 reached $266.79 million compared with 2005's $195.62 million. In 2005, Russia — with $75.54 million — was No. 2 to Poland ($80.31 million). In 2006, the former Soviet Union soared to first place with $127.72 million, while Poland fell to second with $77.69 million. Eastern Europe's percentage of international sales climbed to 8.5% from 6.3%.

The annual foreign-sales survey of member companies — now assembled at the IFTA-sponsored American Film Market — is said to provide the best indicator of how the independent film community is faring in an ever-changing and highly competitive market.

The IFTA annual surveys show steady year-to-year increases in indie sales across 2002 ($2.31 billion), 2003 ($2.64 billion), 2004 ($2.91 billion), 2005 ($3.08 billion) and 2006 ($3.18 billion).

Western Europe, with $1.89 billion in '06 sales, once again was the leading customer for indie product in 2006, equal to 59.38% of total international sales. Overall sales in 2006, however, were scarcely ahead of 2005, with Germany (including Austria) the leading buyer of indie product at $475.27 million, followed by the U.K., $359.29 million; France, $309.43 million; Spain, $231.34 million; Italy, $188.28 million; Benelux, $118.75 million; Scandinavia, $102.68 million; and Other (Greece, Portugal and Switzerland), $100.87 million.

The Asia/Pacific region, excluding Australia, brought in $444.34 million (13.99%), slightly less than 2005's $454.73 million (14.8%). Japan was the region's top buyer with $292.59 million, followed by South Korea, $48.99 million; Thailand, $28.13 million; Taiwan, $21.90 million; and Hong Kong, $16.04 million.

The Latin American total of $268.22 million (8.45% of international sales) came mainly from Brazil ($149.97 million) and Mexico ($63.44 million).

Sales to Australia/New Zealand came to $142.78 million; to Israel/Middle East, $55.96 million (down from 2005's $76.18 million); and South Africa, $227.41 million. Overall, sales in Other Territories, which includes Canada ($24.05 million) and India ($7.56 million), increased in 2006 to $310.64 million from 2005's $293.99 million.

The major portion of indie international sales appear to come from the larger IFTA member companies, including the specialized affiliates of the major companies. Their films, usually backed by star power and major-company domestic distribution, frequently are in the spotlight during Oscar time.