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MULTIPLEX BOOM

Multiplex construction in Spain has reached record levels over the last two years, adding zest to local receipts that climbed healthily in both 1992 and 1993. Pointers suggest the multiplex boom will continue for at least another two or three years, making Spain’s exhibition sector one of the most robust in Europe.

“Spain is already a really important market in Europe,” says Liam Maher, general manager of the Warner-Lusomundo Moraleja multiplex in Madrid.

“The last three years have seen multiplexing like never before in Spain. Any new shopping center with ambitions wants its own multiplex,” says Angel Poveda of the Madrid-based Yelmo Films that plans to double its number of screens from 54 to around 100 by the end of 1996.

Receipts up, up and up?

The multiplex boom comes as box office receipts may be reaching a plateau in Spain after five years of continual growth, from 1989 to 1993.

Totals for 1994 were not yet available at press time, but box office earnings for the first 10 months of the year were 30.8 billion pesetas ($254.6 million), just 1% up on the same period in 1993. Tix sales for January-October 1994 were, moreover, 6% down, at 62.6 million admissions.

But this potential leveling has yet to affect the multiplex business. Recent results prove that a multiplex pulls in filmgoers, sometimes in a spectacular fashion. Thanks largely to the inauguration in December 1994 of a 2,000 seater, 10-plex at Llobregat, admissions will go up from 4 million to 5.5 million for 1995 at the sites of Catalonia’s ACEC (Area Catalana d’Exhibicio Cinematografica), says its managing director Francisco Garcia. A service company handles programming and concessions for 15 Catalan exhibs; ACEC already represents a total of 26 cinema theaters and screens.

The number of screens in Spain has remained stable in recent years, at around 1,800. That figure includes 31 multiplexes (6 or more screens) in 1993. Summer-only sites and backstreet flea-pits are closing as fast as new screens open. “In the medium term, such sites are doomed,” says Angel Poveda, Yelmo’s head of administration. Spain’s multiplex potential is anybody’s guess. But leading exhibs polled by Variety – CINESA, Warner Lusomundo, ACEC, Lauren, Yelmo, Pechuan, Bautista Soler and Enrique Gonzalez Macho – claim their current number of screens (a total of 384 between them) would increase nearly 50% by the end of 1996.

New sites skedded to open include 15 hardtops with six or more screens. ACEC’s Francisco Garcia estimates that at least eight to 10 new multiplexes will be built by exhibitors during 1995 in just the province and capital of Barcelona alone.

Owned by the Universal/Paramount joint venture UCI, CINESA currently leads multiplex construction in Spain. “We don’t talk a lot, but we work a lot,” says CINESA CEO Jose Batlle. CINESA has seven multiplexes – with six or more screens each – accounting for 46 of its 81 screens in Spain.

Multis increase

It is set to open an eighth, a state-of-the-art eight-plex in the port at Barcelona, and will have two more multiplexes up and running, one in Barcelona, by early 1996, bringing its number of screens to 111.

A U.S./European alliance of Warner Bros, and Portuguese distributor/exhibitor Lusomundo opened their first multiplex, a seven-plex, at La Moraleja in Northern Madrid earlier this year.

“We’ve got a 10-year business plan to build 10 multicinemas in Spain. We have the capital and motivation, and just have to establish the sites,” Maher says.

Warner-Lusomundo mainly handles U.S. titles, but also screens top upscale Euro titles such as “Little Buddha” and “The House of the Spirits.” The alliance hopes to open its second cinema in Spain toward the end of 1996. “From then, it will be hopefully one every six to eight months as soon as the sites come up,” Maher adds.

With UGC planning to begin building a 12-to 15-screen, 2,500 seater alongside the Madrid circular from January 1996, and local exhibs Lauren Films (constructing both arthouses and commercial first-run theaters) with ambitious building agendas, hardtop growth in Spain seems, as ACEC’s Garcia puts it, “unstoppable.”

A few distant warning lights are, however, flashing.

Some projects seem rash. “You’ve got to be very careful about your fellow travelers: Who’s the owner of the shopping center? How’s it going to function?” says Batlle.

A further danger is local market saturation. “In some concrete areas, multiplexes are now beginning to be built too near each other. When you have two multiplexes in the same catchment area, there is no winner. Both are losers,” Batlle continues. Yet for Maher, competition in Spain hardly matches up to U.K. levels.

A perceived drop in cinema receipts for the first five months of 1995 has also forced home the truth that rising admissions are powered not only by new theaters, but also strong titles to play in them.

Exhibs are looking to the upcoming releases of “Batman Forever,” “Casper” and the re-release of “Sleeping Beauty” to reverse the downtrend.

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