Film Distribution in Australia, part 3: How Australia compares internationally

Australia historically has been a relatively high-level consumer of American audio-visual products with – by international standards – a very high level of cinema attendance as well (Johnson 2006). Although Australian cinema admissions per capita have declined from 4.6 admissions in 2004 per person per year to 4.1 admissions in 2008, Australia was still ranked equal fourth in the world (along with the USA) – not far behind Iceland (5.4), Ireland (4.2) and Singapore (4.2) and ahead of New Zealand (3.6), Canada (3.2), South Korea (3.1), France (3.0), and India (2.9) and the United Kingdom (2.7).[1]

Even in absolute cinema admissions numbers, Australia is significant in world terms, coming in fifteenth in world rankings in 2008 with 84.6 million admissions. The world leader is India, with 3,330 million admissions in 2008, followed by the USA with 1,248 million admissions, China (209.8 million), France (188.8), Mexico (182.4), the United Kingdom (164.2) and Japan (160.5).[2] Thus, Australian cinema admissions are roughly half that of the third, fourth and fifth leading countries. This finding is consistent with Australia’s number of cinema screens in 2008: fifteenth in the world, with 1,941 screens, well behind world leaders USA (38,834), China (35,200), India (10,120), France (5,418) and Germany (4,810), with the United Kingdom in ninth place with 3,661 screens. Australia is not far behind Brazil (2,491) and South Korea (2,081).[3] In actual theatrical box office revenues, Australia rises to eleventh place (where it has been since 2002) with $USD807.1 million in 2008, ahead of China, Mexico, the Russian Federation and Brazil (all countries with many more cinema admissions), due to Australia’s higher cinema prices.[4]

When considering the viewing of American-made films and the financial return to American producers, Australia is even more significant. In 2003, Australia was ranked the sixth top foreign market for American films, after Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France – and ahead of Italy and Mexico. However, on a per capita return basis, of the top eight countries, Australia actually rated first, with an average of $AUD8.34 per person (per capita), significantly higher than all other countries and well ahead of Spain. These 2003 figures are consistent with those from the late 1970s, when Australia ranked first in per capita return and eighth in total revenue (see Dermody & Jacka 1987, pp. 110-111). This high ranking is partly because of Australia’s relatively high per capita cinema attendance, but also a result of the overwhelming percentage of box office revenue for American films. In 2008, the overwhelming majority of Australian box office revenue (85 percent) went to American films.[5]

Thus it is clear that Australia has consistently been “punching above its weight” regarding consumption of – and payment for – American feature films. However, these figures do not tell the whole story. The distribution of American films in English-speaking countries – the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand[6] is less expensive and more profitable for the Hollywood studios than non-English speaking countries, as there are no requirements for expensive subtitling and different prints and rarely the necessity to edit the film to cater for local mores and tastes. Australia is also a reliable source of profit: unlike many smaller “foreign” markets, money from the “major market countries” identified above is repatriated back to the American studios within a year of release, compared to a delay of possibly many years in smaller markets (Epstein 2005a, pp. 115-116). Thus Australia plays an unusually important role for American film profitability, despite its relatively small size.


[1] Sources: Screen Australia, based on data from Screen Digest and the Cinema Intelligence Service. See www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/acompadmitper.html, accessed 5 October 2010; and Digital Cinema Media Cinema Update 2009, www.dcm.co.uk/SiteAssets/Cinema_Update_2009.ppt, accessed 3 January 2010.

[2] Source: Screen Australia, based on data from Screen Digest. See www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/acompadmissions.html, accessed 3 January 2010.

[3] Source: Screen Australia, based on data from Screen Digest. See www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/acompscreens.html, accessed 3 January 2010.

[4] Source: Screen Australia, based on data from Screen Digest and the Cinema Intelligence Service. See www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/acompboxoffice.html, accessed 3 January 2010. Note that admissions calculated in $US can be highly variable depending on the changing exchange rate.

[5] Sources: Screen Australia, based on data supplied by the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia; see www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/wcboshare.html and www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/wcfilmxcountry.html, both accessed 3 January 2010.

[6] This does not include Canada, which has been part of the US – called “North American” – market since the 1920s (see O’Regan 1990).

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