Reality TV may have too 'Big' an impact on filmgoers

BUDAPEST — After years of growth, attendance at Hungary’s multiplex cinemas took one small step backward in 2002 — and exhibitors may have George Orwell to blame.

Admissions at the capital’s cinemas were 3% lower than in 2001 — a banner year in the local industry when attendance reached a record 8.4 million in a city of only 2 million.

Some blame the intense popularity of reality television including ubiquitous “Big Brother” series. Analysts also point out that a poor economy in 2002 may have prompted moviegoers to stay home and count pennies.

But some industry insiders are wondering if Hungary’s cinema industry may have finally reached its upper limit of expansion.

Over the past five years, plex developers such as UCI, Intercom Kft., Budapest Film and City Cinemas have been building plex after plex. But there may no longer be any untapped viewers to power future growth. Budapest Film managing director Ferenc Port even declared in the local business press: “The multiplex market has reached saturation point.”

Yet while Hungary’s mainstream plexes are not attracting new viewers, arthouses are. Budapest Film, the capital’s chief arthouse exhibitor, boasted 900,000 more viewers in 2002 than the previous year.

Analysts point out art moviegoers are less likely to be enthralled by programs like “Big Brother,” as arthouse aficionados tend to seek more mature fare, are less fickle, and are affluent enough to be more immune to economic fluctuations.

BF’s Port also notes that while admissions are falling, DVD/video rentals and sales are growing rapidly — and that it may be possible for the art exhib market to grow along with it if cinemas are revamped and retooled with state-of-the-art technology. And BF is indeed in the process of renovating a number of its classic arthouse venues.

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