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Portugal ripe for growth

Between 1989 and 1992, the total number of screens in Portugal plunged 26%, from 280 to 207, leaving many rural areas with no theaters. Others stumbled along on one-screen mom ‘n’ pop businesses. And to further confuse the issue, those 207 cinemas were owned by 171 companies.

Now, multiplex construction has halted the decline. “There’s a lot going on in Portugal compared with Spain,” says Warner Lusomundo’s Liam Maher, who’s general manager of the Warner-Lusomundo Moraleja multiplex in Madrid. “There’s less competition in Portugal and there’s a lot of opportunity. The level of cinemas and the cost of investment is much lower.”

A total 224 screens were in operation in 1994, driving attendance up from 11.8 million in 1992 to an estimated 12.5 million last year. Despite the fragmentation, market concentration in key sites is intense. Giant Lusomundo now has 75 screens, of which seven – in an ongoing partnership – are at the Warner Lusomundo multiplex at Cascais, as well as an eight-plex in Lisbon’s chic Amoreiras shopping mall.

In 1995, Warner Lusomundo will open a 10-plex in Columba, a five-plex in Olivais and a nine-plex in Gaia, in northern Portugal.

Warner Lusomundo’s only competitor is producer Paulo Branco. His exhibition company Medeia, a 51%/49% joint venture with a small Spanish investment group, now owns 28 screens, including eight in Lisbon (which only has 30 screens total), five in Oporto and four in Coimbra. Branco is the distributor of European films par excellence in Portugal, as opposed to Lusomundo, which caters to audiences hungry for American fare.

Medeia’s theaters account, says Branco, for “much more than 50% of admissions to European films.”

Business is progressing at his mainstream Monumental in central Lisbon. The cinema, which opened in September 1993, boasts Dolby SR digital sound and, despite only 930 seats total in four houses, clocked 650,000 admissions in 1994.

Pedro Borges, Medeia’s second in command to Branco, tells Variety that Medeia had no immediate plans to build new sites. “But if other exhibitors give up, we might move in.” Branco and Borges look for admissions on their circuit to rise from 1.5 million in 1994 to 2 million this year.

They’re pinning their hopes on such films as “Casper,” “The Quick and the Dead,” “Batman Forever,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Judge Dredd” to best last summer’s tix sales.

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