Cinema openings on rebound

Theaters prep for 'Passion,' expect growth

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Sociedad Anonima Cinematografica (SAC) reopened a dozen theaters for the Thursday, March 25 release of “The Passion of the Christ,” betting that the pic and a recovering economy would fill seats left empty by the 1998-2002 recession.

“We have high expectations” for steady growth in auds over the coming years, says operations manager Rolando Bevilacqua.

The curtain raising for these theaters, located in and around Buenos Aires, marks some of the first in more than two years for the country.

In the 1990s, the number of screens grew rapidly. Foreign players like Hoyts Cinemas and Village Cinemas entered the market to build large multiplexes. This offset closures of indie theaters in smaller markets, boosting the number of screens to 1,030 in 2001 from as little as 300 at the start of the decade.

Yet building slowed in 1998 as a weak economy began to limit attendance, and then stopped when a financial crisis hit three years later. Financing for new complexes vanished, theaters closed and movie-going fell in the face of 45% inflation, depressed wages and rising crime and unemployment.

Now with the economy on track to grow 6-7% this year after 8.7% expansion in 2003, exhibitors are plotting development once again. Ticket sales are expected to hit a record 35 million this year, up from 33.7 million in 2003 and 29 million in 2002.

SAC is evaluating fresh opportunities to expand its 6% share of ticket sales, says Bevilacqua.

So are its busier competitors. Hoyts, boasting a third of admissions, along with Cinemark, Showcase Cinemas and Village are vying for contracts in shopping malls that are being built in Buenos Aires, Rosario and San Miguel de Tucuman.

Other multiplex contracts are coming up for renewal in Buenos Aires and Cordoba, opening the chance for expansion.

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