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Despite the advent of state-of-the-art technologies bringing movies, series and shows into the screens of our smart devices, the cinema industry in Malta appears to be not only coping but doing well as the number of people attending screenings increased in the past year. Business Malta speaks to industry insiders about how the market has evolved in recent years, and what is in the pipeline.

Maltese films generated a total gross box office of €97,000 through 756 screenings with 17,911 people viewing, while foreign productions had 822,020 viewers delivering a box office of €5.4m via 44,255 screenings in 2018, the National Statistics Office (NSO) said in a report that investigated eight cinemas offering 35 screens and an accumulated seating capacity of 6,716. Recent statistics show that cinema attendance in Malta has increased considerably, which players see to be a very positive trend for the local industry.

“In general terms, interest in cinema in Malta is on the increase; figures reveal 673,487 admissions in 2016, 757,203 in 2017 and 839,931 in 2018. It means that people are going back to the cinema and everyone technically gains from this trend,” lecturer and freelance filmmaker Kenneth Scicluna weighs in on the matter when speaking to BM, mentioning statistics compiled by NSO. Mr Scicluna notes that since the NSO omits the titles of Maltese productions, it is difficult to ascertain whether the figures given included box office figures for episodes from popular local TV series shown in cinemas as season premieres or finales.

Beyond acknowledging the upward trend in cinema attendance, Mr Scicluna adds that Maltese titles also appear to have been fairly consistent in attracting people to the big screen. “In 2016, seven Maltese films sold approximately 11,000 tickets, and although a year later cinemas sold approximately the same amount of tickets for Maltese titles — albeit for 11 films –, 2018’s figures reveal consistency with the trend,” the filmmaker says. Last year, Maltese films were viewed by 17,911 people, according to NSO statistics, with 17 Maltese films reportedly making it to the big screen in 2018, therefore selling approximately 1,000 tickets per film in 2018.

Giving a framework to the Maltese market, Mr Scicluna says that the figures for Maltese films are relatively better than those of European films screened in Malta. In fact, Maltese cinemas screened 173 European-made films in 2016, 181 films in 2017 and 180 films in 2018, according to NSO statistics. Nevertheless, these films attracted approximately 144,000 people in 2016, which number fell to 67,082 in 2017, and was further down to 49,937, according to official NSO statistics.

“As NSO statistics reveal, 2018 was a phenomenal year for cinema in general, we are very happy and proud, especially when it comes to the box office performance and growth of the local cinematic market,” Carinzia Camilleri, General Manager of Eden Cinemas, confirms.

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How far cinema can be a firm competitor in the entertainment business depends highly on the content aired. Good movies will attract more people, which is a factor out of the operator’s reach. Additionally to last year’s record-breaking performance, this year could further increase numbers chiefly due to The Lion King and Avengers movies. “It is still a bit too early to make a comment about a confirmed growth, however. Looking into the possibilities 2020 might have on hold, we have to see the lineup, which usually shapes up around October,” Ms Camilleri adds.

Multilayered competition

Although legal streaming services provide an alternative to people to watch their favourite films in the comfort of their homes, such techy solutions still do not seem to steal viewership from cinemas in the island nation, for the time being.

When big titles are released in Malta, locals still go to the cinema in high numbers, as figures reveal. This implicates that cinemas might still be very relevant in today’s society. The large screen, the great sound, and comfortable seating are all great advantages to experience a film in the best way possible, which extras might well contribute to the increasing popularity of cinemas.

“Speaking about competitors, other cinemas are not our only competitors. Anything related to the entertainment business is our competitor. Even the bowling in front of Eden can be a competitor which attracts people who go there instead of not going to the cinema,” Ms Camilleri tells BM.

Although online streaming is present in the online entertainment market, one “cannot compete with the unique atmosphere created by the cinema. If we talk about blockbusters, comic movies, live-action there is no comparison between streaming and cinema and we are not being affected in this case,” Ms Camilleri adds.

To make sure they stay in the competition, though, cinemas are improving their technological background to keep up the pace with the quickly-developing audiovisual market and easy access to top-notch tech at customers’ fingertips. It appears cinema operators are well aware of the disruptors of the market and apply a rather reactive approach to innovative challenges that the latest technology presents.

Cinemas in Malta, as well as globally, are moving away from using the classic 35mm, in favour of 4K technology that is easier to operate and offers better image quality.

In recent years, cinemas all across Malta, have been going through technological developments, such as switching to digital picture technology. These advances are thought to surely influence the market as movie theatres are becoming able to offer alternative experiences. This tendency may help local cinemas to tap into niche markets and exploit cinema theatres not just for film purposes but for other entertainment options. Similarly to other sectors, customers’ expectations are increasing which local cinemas need to take into account to ensure that they are able to offer the best experience and services possible, to keep driving high attendance.

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“We changed all our movie theatres to digital seven years ago, our 13 screens are all digital but we do not work with laser yet, we work with lamp. In the last five years, we have refurbished four of our theatres in terms of seating and screening. We have another refurbishment of three screens scheduled for the beginning of next year and other refurbishment works are underway when it comes to our main foyer,” Ms Camilleri of Eden says.

Mario Loporto, Consultant at Citadel Cinema in Malta’s sister island; Gozo, appears to be on the same wavelength. “The old technology used to be the classic 35mm which was labour-intensive and it was quite difficult to get a clear and stable picture, whereas the new digital technology is totally computerised and electronic, which makes it easy to prepare and air a film,” says Mr Loporto.

“Moreover, the picture is crystal clear since we use 4K projectors [a piece of technology that provides sharp images with a horizontal screen resolution of around 4000 pixels]. The public reacted positively to this change as attendances increased. This is a big attraction for the Gozitans and for the island of Gozo,” he adds.

“the picture is crystal clear since we use 4K projectors […] This is a big attraction for the Gozitans and for the island of Gozo.”

Mario Loporto, Consultant at Citadel Cinema in Gozo, Malta’s sister island.

Nevertheless, competition is not only global, due to around the clock connectivity and streaming, but also local. It appears that many people have their preferred cinemas and they do not feel comfortable in going to ones at different localities in Malta. Maltese industry insiders, however, say that the competition stays healthy in the Mediterranean archipelago.

Gozitan micro market

The island of Gozo presents its own market with the Citadel Cinema, and due to the small size of the sister island, the market has different goals and ambitions to Malta.

“Obviously, due to the small size of our operating market, which is made of circa 30,000 people compared to the approximately 400,000 in Malta, when films are less popular we operate on a much smaller market which affects our attendance numbers negatively,” says Mr Loporto.

Despite the main issue of size, people are always interested to spend a night out at the cinema with the family and the perspective for the future remains positive even in a small island like Gozo.

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“Due to production of many high-standard films that attract families and children, the market has improved a lot. We think that in the future there will be more room for the film industry to grow as long as we keep investing in the latest technologies,” Mr Loporto adds.

Citadel Cinema in Gozo offers two screens with a capacity of 128 and 167 seats, respectively. On average a new movie is introduced every week, in order to give something innovative to the audience.

Mr Loporto also notes that the attendance depends on the movie shown. For instance, the launch of good family movies, such as Pixar or Disney cartoons, brings more families to the cinema. Since at present good family movies are being launched, the attendances are very good, Mr Loporto reckons. This echoes Ms Camilleri’s point of view on the importance of content as an attraction factor of viewership.

Cinema is highly about the social gathering factor – people go to the cinema not just to watch a film but to meet friends. (source: Unsplash/Krists Luahers)

Catering for social needs

In addition to cinemagoers favouring the comfortable seating and monumental experience of movie theatres, the activity is still viewed as a social gathering, similar to how it used to be decades ago. Even if recent tech solutions provide instant and flexible ways to enjoy a movie in the comfort and isolation of one’s home, people still seem to prefer a huge auditorium and would enjoy sharing the viewing experience with their fellows, at least in Malta.

Fintech solutions, similarly to other industries, appear to increase competition for cinemas too. Nevertheless, figures show that many people still want to experience a film in a grandiose setting and enjoy the cinema experience.

Cinema is highly about the social gathering factor – people go to the cinema not just to watch a film but to meet friends, to have a relaxing time with their family or else to enjoy a day or night out with the people closest to them. Cinema is not just about the film – it is more than that, hence it has still remained popular in Malta even though new options have emerged.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Industry insiders have been consulted for the present article to ensure that the coverage is in line with the most recent trends in the vertical. At the same time, Business Malta has reached out to all the major cinema establishments operating in the country and has included answers received by the time of publication of the present story.