Preview Review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation

B.O. tracking for about-15% 2013 plunge

MADRID — Smashed by a perfect storm – piracy, economic crisis, a sales tax hike from 8% to 21% on cinema tickets – total theatrical box office in Spain is on track to plunge 15% in 2013 vs. 2012, its worst result in modern times.

Admissions – vital to the exhibition business, driving the lucrative concession business – will take a similar hit.

Neither Hollywood nor local titles have escaped the debacle.

Through Tuesday, provisional total 2013 B.O. came in at Euros 476 ($654.0 million), tix sold at 72.3 million, per Rentrak.

Two weeks off year-end, barring last minute surprises, that sets Spain’s theatrical market on course for around a Euros 507 ($696.6 million) total 2013 box office trawl , repping 78 million admissions.

Pumped by hiked ticket prices, thanks to 3D movie attendance, Spanish box office grosses broadly held up for more than a decade, hitting Euros 600-700 million ($824 million – $962 million) over 2001-12. Ticket sales, in contrast, have fallen from 2004’s 143.9 million in eight of the last nine years. For 2013, they are now around 46% below 2004.

Bowing Dec. 13, Warner Bros.’ “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” racked up the best first frame of the year – $7.1 million – and may overtake Fox’s “The Croods,” which chalked up $18.5 million, as 2013’s box office champ in Spain.

2013’s other highest-grossing movie in Spain are Universal’s “Despicable Me 2” ($17.5 million) and “World War Z” ($16.3 million).

Whether “The Hobbit” passes $20 million is another question. Big Hollywood plays now persistently underperform compared to 2012 and 2011, let alone earlier last decade. Six movies grossed $20 million plus in 2012, five in 2011.

Unlike 2012, when Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible” topped charts in Spain with $54.5 million, and “Tad, the Lost Explorer” punched $23.9 million, Spanish cinema hasn’t ridden to the rescue in 2013.

Top performer was “Fast & Furious 6” ($12.6 million) which qualified as Spanish, so benefitting from Spanish tax breaks, and “Mama” ($10.3 million), a Spain-Canada co-production.  The best-performing majority Spanish co-production, “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” grossed $6.9 million.

Not including “Fast & Furious 6,” Spanish films’ market was 11.35% for 2013 through Dec. 8, down from 18.6% in 2012, per Spain’s Media Research & Consultancy (MRC).

Costing on average $8.9 in 2012 – on a par with France – cinema tickets are beyond many pockets in Spain, where unemployment peaked at a record 27% this year.

More go-ahead exhibitors Yelmo Cines and Cinesa, who operate 900 screens in Spain, spearheaded a three-day bargain basement Fiesta del Cine over Oct. 21-23 slashing ticket prices to $4 and spiking B.O. grosses 300%, compared to receipts at the same screens a week earlier, per Rentrak.

More spectators – 98,000 – caught “Gravity” on Oct. 21 than on Oct. 5, its first Saturday in Spanish cinemas.

“After years of decline in attendance, the Fiesta del Cine indicated that Spaniards want to go to the cinema and are willing to pay to see films. The question is how much they should pay, and when. We have to reach a consensus on that,” said Arturo Guillen, VP, Rentrak, EMEA.

Spain’s FECE exhibitors’ assn. argues that the only long-term solution to the problem of ticket pricing in Spain is a reduction of cinema tickets’ sales tax.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report.

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