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Box office rise doesn’t tell whole tale of exhib’n health

Ticket prices up, admissions down 5% from 2001

MADRID — Box office in Spain shot up 13% in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2001, according to a recent analysis by Nielsen EDI in Spain. With “Spider-Man” still spinning moolah and predicted wow bows for “Minority Report,” “Men in Black II,” and “Die Another Day,” Spain looks like it’s sauntering past second base for its 14th consecutive year of B.O. growth.

“The second half of the year has some very strong pics,” confirmed Yelmo Cineplex director of development Pablo Nogueroles.

So one would expect Spanish distribs and exhibs to be in a fiesta mood as they prep their August recess. No way, Jose.

That 13% hike may look like good news. But, aside from the major U.S. studios, for most players it’s not good enough news. Indie distribbers bowed just two of Spain’s top 10 — Aurum’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and TriPictures’ “Blade II.”

Nielsen EDI says total admissions through July 11 were 63 million. That’s down 5% from 2001, despite Spain having added some 120 screens this year.

Spain’s B.O. climb is due in part to an 18% rise in ticket prices, driven by new megaplexes opening. Above all, however, it’s thanks to exhibs opportunely using the switch from peseta to euro to shimmy up admissions costs, which are still among the lowest in western Europe (average $4.30).

Spanish exhibs are ho-hum about Spain’s first-half results. Execs at major hardtop loops report an increase of just 1% in B.O., and a decrease of as much as 10% or 11% in tickets sold.

The health of an exhibition sector is judged as much by number of cinemagoers — which affects concessions sales — as gross B.O.

Buzz has it that even some new megaplexes are performing well below expectations. Primitivo Rodriguez, prexy of Spain’s FEECE exhibs’ lobby, says, “The exhibition sector is going through a crisis, and the Spanish government isn’t doing anything about it.”

Exhibitors are, however. Spain’s UGC Cinecite has new discounts. Warner Lusomundo Sogecable has inked with the Spanish Federation of Associations of Large Families to offer reductions for families with three or more children. Spain’s exhibs aren’t taking the country’s rising B.O. grosses lying down.

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