Italian expansion

Loews, De Laurentiis plan multiplex chain

ROME — Adding another key territory to its international expansion program, U.S. exhibition group Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp. has pacted with Italian producer-distributor Aurelio De Laurentiis to develop a chain of multiplexes in the country.

The joint venture, named De Laurentiis Cineplex, was announced Tuesday in Rome by De Laurentiis, Lawrence J. Ruisi, LCEC president and CEO, and J. Edward Shugrue, prexy of Loews Cineplex Intl.

The partners plan to open between 15 and 20 multiplexes, totaling around 300 screens and entailing an overall investment of about 366 billion lira ($200 million). The new company will open offices in Rome and expects to announce the initial 15 sites to be developed in the coming months.

“Italy is the fifth largest market in the world for cinema attendance, but it has perhaps the oldest screens,” Ruisi said. “As we build these multiplexes and offer better quality, not only will people who go regularly to the cinema continue going, but others will also start. This market will grow to be maybe the No. 2 or No. 3 market in the world.”

De Laurentiis already owns or programs some 60 screens in cities in northern and central Italy, including around 40 screens in Rome. The Cineplex chain will be a separate concern and will target underscreened towns in the provinces.

This strategy puts the venture in direct competition with Warner Village Cinemas and recently announced startup Cinemax, both of which have similar development strategies. However, De Laurentiis underlined results of a recent study that found the Italian market has the growth potential to support 120-150 multiplexes.

Screens needed

“If we are going to increase moviegoing in Italy, we need to concentrate primarily on areas where cinemas don’t exist,” De Laurentiis said. “There are places in Italy where people have to drive 100 kilometers (62 miles) to find a decent screen. This audience shouldn’t be ignored.”

The De Laurentiis Cineplex pact is a 50-50 financial split, with the Italian partner responsible for programming the multis. De Laurentiis’ production-distribution outfit, Filmauro, is Italy’s third largest film company, following the Cecchi Gori Group and Medusa. “One of the reasons we seek to have partnerships is so that the venture automatically achieves an understanding of the local market practice and has sensitivity for local product, Italian or European,” Shugrue said. “To a large extent, these cinemas will only succeed if they are facile with indigenous product.”