Rising admissions are putting a spring into Belgian exhibs’ steps and they are starting to reap the rewards of shrewd investment in multiplexes, which began in the early ’80s.
“The multiplexes have played an important role in reviving the fortunes of our exhibitors,” says Guy Morlion, secretary general of exhibitors’ association FCB. “There has been a revival of interest in the cinema in this country over the last five or six years, and ticket sales have risen progressively in this period.”
The reason for this upward trend is probably not, as one wag put, “because it has rained constantly for the last five years here” (it has always rained a lot in Belgium), but due to the many comforts offered at Belgium’s new multiplex cinemas.
“The main appeal for these audiences,” says Morlion, “is the relatively easy access and parking the multiplexes provide, as well as great improvements in seating and decor, sound and screen quality.
“A new audience of 18-25 year-olds is coming to the cinema as another form of entertainment-like sport, and mostly they turn up and choose the film they want to see on the spot,” he says.
Totals for 1994 are not yet available, but the PCB estimates that tix sales will weigh in at over 22.5 million (a pretty perky sum for a country with a population of just 10 million). FCB reckons takings rose to around 3,711 billion Belgian francs ($127 million) in 1994, up over 14% on last years’ full total of $111 million (3,247 billion Belgian francs).
Belgium currently has 11 multiplexes (some 139 screens) and plans to upgrade existing hardtops. In addition, plans to build new multiplexes are under way at a handful of sites.
Belgium’s top chain, the Kinepolis group, the flagship of the Bert-Claeys family dynasty, plans to add to its extensive portfolio in Belgium by building a 17-screen multiplex on the outskirts of Liege, at an estimated cost of $2 million, which is expected to be up and running this time next year.
The Bert-Claeys’ family are enjoying the fruits of an aggressive expansion policy during the last 10 years, mostly from multiplexes built on sites on the borders of towns and cities, and the group now owns 104 screens across the country.
French giant Gaumont got the go-ahead to build a 15-screen multiplex in Antwerp earlier this year, following in the steps of rival UGC which has done good business for years in its two downtown Brussels’ plexes: the UGC Acropole and UGC de Brouckere. “We’re seeing a return of audiences to quality movies,” says UGC exec Annie Oliver. “The public is becoming more demanding again, a trend we have seen in France as well.”
Efforts to combat the traditional B.O. graveyard of warm-weather months at UGC have included a John Cassavetes retrospective last year, which was a success. A Roman Polanski season is skedded for this summer.
UGC’s de Brouckere site, which opened in 1992, increased tix sales from 884,000 in 1993, to 965,000 in 1994, and hopes to increase box-office by year’s end with two new screens, at a cost of about $2.7 million.
Although European pics get a slightly better showing in inner-city multiplexes, Yank product accounts for 80% of all pics screened in Belgium.
Only the die-hard independents, like the Vendome (Belgium’s oldest), manage a more even balance between Yank and Euro product, with about 40% from each territory and 20% from the rest of the world.
Belgian exhibs are primed for a promising upcoming lineup, including “Batman Forever.”