Will higher ticket hurt admissions?

ROME — Taking the eagerly awaited release of Fox’s “Titanic” as their cue, exhibitors in the Lombardy region surrounding Milan have elected to raise admission prices starting today, prompting a storm of protests from the local distribution arms of the U.S. majors here.

Starting next week, ticket prices will be upped from 12,000 lire ($7) to 14,000 lire ($8.50) in the region. Given that price hikes in the past have been instigated in Milan, with other areas following suit, the increase is expected to become national in the coming weeks.

A statement issued by distributors association FIDAM called the move “a self-inflicted attack on the entire film sector brought into effect right at the beginning of what promises to be an extremely interesting year due to the continued growth shown in the number of film admissions.”

FIDAM’s members, which include Buena Vista Italia, Columbia TriStar Italia, 20th Century Fox Italy, UIP and Warner Bros. Italia, have called for government intervention to block the increase. Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Walter Veltroni also has voiced his objections to the decision.

A campaign launched by Veltroni last year to discount admission prices at weekday afternoon sessions brought strong results and is considered partly responsible for the positive momentum of theater admissions and box office revenues in recent months. The majors fear the ticket hike could halt this process.

National admission prices have been stable at 12,000 lire since 1994.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more