Receipts rise despite drop in admissions

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s box office was mixed in the first half of 2007, with higher ticket prices discouraging attendance but bolstering revenue as Hollywood films dominated.

Admissions dropped 7.5% to 18.12 million in the first half from 19.49 million a year earlier, while receipts shot up 15.5% to $59 million from $51.1 million, according to Nielsen EDI Argentina and Dis-Service data.

Exhibitors hiked ticket prices to an average of $3.25 this year in response to 10% annual inflation and 15%-20% wage hikes.

But rising labor, marketing and printing costs are narrowing profits, says Sebastian Alonso, general manager of United Intl. Pictures Argentina.

“It is very hard to break even with small and medium titles,” he says.

The top four draws accounted for 30% of admissions in the first half, led by “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek the Third” and “Night at the Museum.”

Bernardo Zupnik, prexy of Argentina’s Distribution Co., says 31% taxes on ticket sales and a weak exchange rate are complicating the business.

The government is artificially keeping the peso at a weak exchange rate with the dollar, a policy that narrows profits for distributors as dollar-related costs rise.

“Films need to sell 80,000 to 100,000 tickets to break even,” says Zupnik, who distributed titles like “Fracture,” “The Queen” and “XXY.”

Few do. Of the 38 homespun releases in the first half, only nine got more than 10,000 admissions.

Juan Taratuto’s romantic comedy “Quien dice que es facil” (Who Says It’s Easy) led the local pack, with 420,000 admissions for 10th place, followed by hermaphrodite drama “XXY” and “El otro” (The Other).

Fewer blockbusters after the busy July-August winter holidays should leave room for lower-budget fare to bring in audiences, says Alejandro De Grazia, head of producer-distributor Pachamama Cine.

That would be good for Miguel Pereira, a director-producer who couldn’t secure the dozen screens he needed to break even for the release of his $1 million drama “El destino” (Destiny) in the first half. Exhibitors gave it just two screens when blockbuster season was beginning, even though the state requires exhibs to screen a certain number of local productions a year.

“It is a better business for exhibitors to have the big movies than to show independent films — even if they pay the fines,” Pereira says.

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