BERLIN — The number of digital theaters in Europe rose to record levels in 2009, driven mainly by the continuing wave of high-profile 3D films.
According to a report by the European Audiovisual Observatory released Wednesday, the number of screens equipped with DLP Cinema or SXRD technology more than tripled last year to 4,693 – an increase of 206.9% over 2008.
Compared with the total number of theaters in Europe, digital screens accounted for a 13% market share, up from 4.1% the previous year.
Citing data from European film promotion org MEDIA Salles, the report underscored 3D as the key growth driver behind theater digitization as well as overall box office.
The EAO estimates that box office grosses in the EU increased by 12% year-on-year to a new record high of Euros 6.27 billion ($7.95 billion) in 2009, largely thanks to premium prices for 3D screenings.
With 3.904 screens, Western Europe has the most digital theaters — an increase of 198.2% over 2008.
Not surprisingly, the report found a direct correlation between ticket sales and the number of digital screens. The five leading markets in Europe with the most admissions are also those with the highest number of digital screens: France accounts for 19.3% of the digital total with 904 screens, followed by the U.K. with 668 (14.2%), Germany with 592 (12.6%), Italy with 428 (9.1%) and Spain with 238 and a 5.1% share.
In Eastern Europe and along the Mediterranean Rim, countries saw a considerable boost compared with 2008 and, with a plus of 258.6%, a higher rate of growth than in Western Europe.
Russia leads with 352 digital screens (7.5% of Europe’s total), Poland with 176 screens (3.8%) and Turkey with 62 screens (1.3%).
A few big exhib chains control the majority of digital screens in Europe. As of June 2009, 5% of exhibs were responsible for 33.6% of the overall number of digital screens.
The top five players include French company CGR (with 13.1% of digital screens); Kinepolis (6.8%), operating in Belgium, France and Spain; Cineworld (5.6%), in the U.K. and Ireland; the Odeon and UCI Cinemas Group (4.8%), in the U.K., Austria, Germany, Italy and Portugal and Spain; and Cineplexx (3.4%) in Austria and in Italy.
The penetration of 3D screens with respect to the overall number of digital screens has likewise continued to increase, reaching 68.8% last year, up from 54.4% in 2008.
In several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Rim, such as Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia, where the numbers of digital cinemas remain modest, 3D screens make up nearly 100% of all digital screens.
While 3D screens account for more than 80% of the total number of digital screens in many countries in both Western and Eastern Europe, including Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, the percentage is much lower in the U.K., where it amounts to 70.8%, Germany (62.3%) and France (52.8%).