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London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin… Who wins Europe’s cultural war?

Various European cities want to attract more visitors from all over the world to come and stay with them for a while. Believe it or not, there’s a simple formula. The more often and more intensely people have their attention captured by arts and entertainment in a city, the more likely they are to spend additional time there. And spending more time in a city, for a tourist as well as for a local citizen who lives outside the city, means spending more money.

With the Cannes Film Festival coming up next month, ReportLinker has uncovered key numbers about this cultural battle.

When it comes to cinema, it just cannot be denied that London is a true European and global leader, culturally and even infrastructure-wise. London has several cinematic theatres and offers 54 seats per 1000 residents. London’s historical and mythic rival, Paris, comes in second with 33.5 seats per 1000 residents.

Still, Paris is far and away Europe’s leading cinema city. In 2017, that city’s cinemas seated nearly three times as many attendees (25.6 million) as runner-up Berlin (9.39 million). However, it ought to be kept in mind that Paris’ cinema admissions numbers pale in comparison with London’s. The UK capital had approximately 40,6 million admissions in 2016 with no significant drop-off reported in 2017. That number accounted for over 24% of all UK cinema admissions that year.) Another leading cinema city, Barcelona, did not even have one-fourth of Paris’ cinema attendees (6.01 million) in 2017. Across all of France, there were over 209 million cinema attendees last year.

Paris also dominates other European cities in terms of total number of cinema seats available. In 2017 it offered 74,530 seats. Second-place Madrid offered nearly 53,000.

And yet, despite its strong presence in the cultural life of European citizens and visitors in 2017, cinema attendance has been, overall, in decline in Europe, as people are able to spend more time at home watching Netflix, or movies on DVDs (some of which, sadly, are illegally pirated versions of films), which for many people are more affordable and convenient ways of viewing movies. The proliferation in recent years of more and better-quality original TV series has competed for Europeans’ ultimately limited viewing time, too. When we look at cinema attendance data from leading European cities including Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, Lisboa, and Talinn, we can see the pattern of drop-off in cinema theatre attendance over the course of the 21st century.

Indeed, the moderate decline in overall European Union cinema attendance in 2017 was primarily caused by a huge drop in Italian admissions (-12.9%) as well as a comparatively poor year-on-year performance in France (-1.8%). Out of the five major EU markets, only the UK and Germany registered an increase in cinema attendance (with, respectively, +2.4 mn visits and +1.2 mn). But, cinema admissions reached record levels in Poland (+4.5 mn), the Netherlands (+1.8 mn), Romania (+1.5 mn), and the Slovak Republic (+1.0 mn).

Despite the French and Italian declines, cinematic theatres will always have a significant presence in European teenagers’ and adults’ lives because they offer an opportunity and an incentive to get out of the house and meet up with friends. Likewise, the quality of films is sure to continue to improve in tandem with technological developments such as augmented reality (AR), and the experience of seeing and hearing a great movie on a huge screen in the theatre is almost impossible to replicate at home.

As with cinema infrastructure and attendance, Paris dominates the continent in a cultural sense with museum attendance, as 27,2 million individual visits were recorded in 2017. In contrast, even the legendary city and cultural magnet of Rome, Italy, in second place, had only 19,4 million museum visits. Also, through 2015, total Parisian museum visits were far higher than they had been during the earliest years of the 21st century.

Parisian museum attendance numbers rose sharply overall from 2001 through 2014, and by the end of 2015 were routinely between 26 million and 28 million visits annually. From the beginning of the 21st century through 2014, Berlin also saw a more or less steady and quite significant rise in museum visitations.

We may reasonably speculate that one major reason for the sharp rise in annual museum visitations in major European cities such as Paris and Berlin, as well as others, is because the museum has for many people replaced the cinema as an affordable, culturally relevant destination giving incentive to get out of the house to go on a date or have a family outing. Many people may be replacing the cinematic experience with Netflix, streaming videos, DVDs, and TV at home, but none of those can replicate sauntering through a museum, soaking up art and history. What’s more, museums are continually becoming more capable of offering interactive, immersive, animated experiences by having theatres, augmented reality (AR) displays, and virtual reality (VR) stations, all of which offer a level of immediate excitement once limited to the cinema.

So, with Cannes coming up in May, France’s merchants and vendors are looking to win a big battle (and bring in a lot of money) in the “culture war” between the major European cities. And many of those film festival movie-goers are likely to end up visiting a French museum, too…