ROME — Leading European plex player UGC Cinemas has set its sights on Italy — Europe’s most underscreened major territory — with plans to unveil next month a 24-screen Cine Cite on the Eternal City’s outskirts.
The irony is that, while vast swaths of the Italo peninsula are in dire need of hardtops, UGC’s 6,100-seat Parco Leonardo megaplex will be located smack in the middle of the country’s most densely screened area, Rome’s sprawling Southwestern periphery, near the capital’s Leonardo da Vinci airport.
Within just a few miles lie Warner Village Cinemas’ 18-screen Parco De Medici facility — currently the country’s largest — and the locally-owned 16-screen Cineland.
“It is precisely because Rome has a vibrant market, that we are going there,” says UGC Cine Cite director general Hugues Borgia. Borgia claims the French exhibition chain will offer a broader, and more European, menu of pics than its competitors.
The Gauls opened their first Italo hardtop, a 12-screener, near Fellini’s hometown of Rimini in 2002. But lackluster results in that seaside province proved that “we won’t be going to any other small or medium cities,” Borgia says.
Instead, on Nov. 12 UGC unveiled a 4,000-seat Cine Cite outside Turin, Northern Italy’s automaking capital, where the 16-screener will compete with fellow French player Pathe’s 11-screen plex inside Lingotto, a former Fiat plant converted into a mall. Funnily enough, Pathe also has plans to build a Rome hardtop.
UGC’s Parco Leonardo will open in December outside the Italian capital, giving UGC a total of 52 screens, which will put it in on the map as a local player, alongside UCI, Pathe, Warner Village, and top local dogs Medusa and Globalmedia. The country’s top plex player is Warner Village Cinemas, with 135 screens.
At this stage, UGC is keeping further plans for Italy under wraps. “There is huge room for growth, but it is still largely a Saturday-night movie-going country,” says Borgia.
Italy’s anemic average of less-than three admissions per inhabitant per year — as opposed to five admissions per capita in the U.S. and almost four in France, is blamed by some on its scarcity of screens. It has just over 3,000, while Spain and Germany both have over 4,000 screens, and France more than 5,000.
Underscoring that scarcity is the fact that, while multiplex development has reached saturation in most of Europe, some 70% of Italian movie theaters are still single-screen cinemas.
Plexes are largely concentrated in the North and in big cities, while the country’s more impoverished southern regions, such as Sicily, are pretty much plex-less. And unless some other exhibition chain comes along, they are likely to remain so.