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Italians relying on multis

The extension of the traditionally short film season has Italian exhibs optimistic about this year’s results, but it is the creation of a strong, modern circuit of multiplexes that will lure Italians back into movie theaters.

At the May press conference announcing the third annual promotional campaign, Festa del Cinema, which ran earlier this month, exhibitors’ association AGIS and distributors’ association UNDF were hoping that 40% cuts in ticket prices and a strong sked of well-advertised releases would help ward off the traditional warm-weather B.O. slump. First year brought in 70% higher-admissions followed by an almost 11% boost in the second year.

Slower start

According to AGIS prez Carlo Bernaschi, “1995 got off to a slower than hoped for start due in part to a small number of strong titles. However, figures for May indicate an upturn.”

Ticket sales for 1994 are estimated to barely graze the 100 million mark, up from 92 million for 1993. For the period September ’94-June ’95, B.O. receipts in the 12 principal Italian cities totaled almost 476 billion lire ($29 million) a 5.4% increase over September ’93-April ’94.

However, actual admissions for 1994-95 in the same 12 cities were 23.2 million, down by 3.2% over the same 1993-94 period. U.S. pics continue to dominate at the box office (61% of total receipts) with Italian films accounting for 24.5%. Production of Italian films is at one of its all-time lows with only 95 domestic titles produced in 1994, down 11 titles from 1993 and 32 fewer than 1992.

Official 1995 AGIS figures give the total number of hardtops in Italy as 2,200, of which 101 are multiplexes with 253 screens, up from last year’s 85 multiplexes with 214 screens. It is estimated, however, that almost two-thirds of Italians do not have a modern movie theater situated near their homes.

“After years of profound crisis we are finally seeing an increase in the number of screens and state-of-the-art theaters meeting the demands of moviegoers,” said Bernaschi. “Exhibitors are hoping for an extended film season. If we can’t count on being open 10 months a year we can’t afford to make the necessary investments to upgrade our theaters as we have done up to now.”

Paolo Ferrari, president of UNDF, argues for the creation of a system of 600-800 multiplexes operating year-round.

“At that point distributors could risk releasing big titles. It costs at least $1.6 million to give an important film a proper release. It’s too costly an investment to risk if the film will only open on 30 screens. A film needs a minimum of 150 to 200 screens to do well at the box office. Either we are able to change the system or we have lost hope.”

Chains like Fininvest’s Cinema 5 and Cecchi Gori Cinema, which includes Safin Cinematografia, long have been focusing on multiplexes.

Cecchi Gori owns approximately 30 hardtops, manages 17 others and is currently working on beefing up the number of their multiplexes.

Cinema 5 owns and manages a chain of 28 screens throughout Italy, and although no new theaters were added to the group’s chain last year, existing ones are being upgraded and multiplexes planned. In June, Cinema 5 will begin extensive renovations on its 10-screen jewel-in-the-crown Odeon in Milan. Gianluigi Delia Casa, the chain’s managing director, states, “All 10 theaters will be outfitted with new seats and fixtures and Dolby Sound will be installed in the four theaters not currently equipped with the sound system.”

Plans also are under way to institute the use of movie subscription “cinecards,” and in September, with the blessing of the distributors’ association, a 40% reduction on the price of admission for the first and second weekday shows.

And while the construction of new multiplexes is necessary, Delia Casa feels that exhibs should concentrate on transforming single screen hardtops into multiplexes.

Exhibitor Giuseppe Ciotoli, who owns three single-screen hardtops in the Roman seaside town of Ostia, laments the shortage of screens in non-urban centers. “There were numerous strong titles last season. Due to the lack of screens, ‘True Lies’ was never released in this area.”

Ciotoli is putting his money on the development of a sprawling multiplex-entertainment center, having secured the rights to a 15,000-square-meter industrial site in Ostia.

In November, he agreed to a 50-50 partnership deal with Australian company Village Roadshow, and Italy’s first true multiplex should be ready by Christmas ’96. Costs are estimated at $27.4 million.

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