U-Par team breaks ground on Polish 8-plex

BUDAPEST — Paramount and Universal finally have broken ground in Eastern Europe’s undeveloped and under-screened exhibition industry, and analysts expect this U.S. joint venture to hit pay dirt.

On Wednesday, United Cinemas Intl. (UCI), the Paramount/Universal-owned exhibition developer, officially began construction on an eight-screen cineplex theater in the Polish city of Poznan, as part of a $100 million initiative with local partner ITI Holdings to bring state-of-the-art venues to eight major Polish markets.

The UCI-ITI multiplex joint venture, Multikino Ltd., is expected to revive the cinema industry in a market that has experienced a steady slump in box office returns over the past decade. “Multikino will be pioneering a revolution in cinema experience for the Polish consumer,” Multikino managing director Aldona Szostakowska said.

According to UCI vice president Ray Smith, the rapid addition of eight or more multiplex venues in the Polish market will increase box office admissions from 24 million in 1995 to upward of 60 million by the end of the decade. With a population of 38 million, Poland is one of Eastern Europe’s most powerful territories. UCI reports that Poland’s ailing exhibition infrastructure boasts only one screen for every 50,000 people.

Increased market drive

“I am confident that we shall see an increased market drive in cinema admissions” as a result of UCI’s investment, Smith said.

Multikino’s flagship Poznan multiplex is scheduled to open in March, and is being constructed amid a flurry of UCI activity in the region.

UCI has announced it has embarked on a two-year $400 million program to bring 65 multiplexes to Poland, Brazil, Japan and Germany.

UCI plans to bring 20 new multiplexes to the Germany territory, which it calls “Europe’s largest revenue-generating market.”

In Poland, UCI has announced that it will bring multiplexes to the cities of Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Wrockaw, Bydgoszcz, Gdansk, Szcecin and Katowice, in addition to its 5,000-square-meter (54,000-square-foot) lot in Poznan. All UCI Polish multiplexes will feature state-of-the-art exhibition technology, Western-style concessions and special parking facilities. After Poland, UCI may expand into other Eastern European markets. (International cinema developers such as Village Roadshow, Gaumont and Cineplex Odeon already are active in Eastern Euro markets including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which still are drastically underdeveloped.)

“The experience we gain in Poland will be invaluable … as we move into other Eastern European countries,” Smith said.

UCI partner ITI Holdings was established in 1984. In addition to theatrical exhibition, ITI also is involved in film distribution, TV broadcasting and advertising (through association with McCann Erickson). UCI currently operates 70 screens in Spain, 41 in Brazil, seven in Japan, five in China, 69 in Germany, nine in Austria, 31 in Ireland and 225 in the U.K.

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