HERZILYA, Israel — Getting up at 3 a.m. to watch the Academy Awards was no problem for I.T. Intl. Theaters CEO Moshe “Mooky” Greidinger. The results were good for his Israeli distrib, Forum Films, which is handling three of the past year’s highest-profile films: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Cold Mountain” and “Finding Nemo.”
“I just got back from L.A. and am jet-lagged, so it wasn’t too difficult to get up,” says the 51-year-old Greidinger, who has successfully expanded the chain started by his grandfather from Israel to Central Europe over the past seven years.
Operating under the Cinema City banner, I.T. runs 233 screens in 26 multiplexes in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The group has an exclusive deal with Imax for the region and launched in Poland a distrib outfit whose clients include Disney, a company I.T. has repped in Israel for 40 years.
“With a population of 40 million, Poland is becoming our most important market,” says Greidinger.
Projects due to go on line in 2004-05 include 15-screen multiplexes in the Polish cities of Warsaw and Lodz, and the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
In Israel, I.T. operates 120 screens in 22 venues under the Rav Chen brand. The group plans to add 500 screens in the next three years.
Buena Vista Intl. president Mark Zoradi says Greidinger’s devotion to film makes him a successful exhibitor.
“He is extremely knowledgeable,” says Zoradi, who will present the ShoWest Intl. Exhibitor of the Year Award to Greidinger. “As well as being an exhibitor, he is a distributor, purchasing titles on the indie market. He understands a film’s needs.”
Israel’s oldest exhibitor, I.T began with a single cinema that opened in the Mediterranean port city of Haifa in 1931.
Greidinger joined the family biz in 1976 and rose to CEO 15 years ago. He spearheaded the construction of Israel’s first multiplex in Tel Aviv in 1982.
“It revolutionized Israeli cinemagoing habits and triggered aggressive development by us and our competitors,” he says.
Greidinger says he has long understood the need for expansion. “By the second half of the ’90s, we came to the conclusion we would not be able to grow much more due to the small size of Israel. We knew we had to expand outside the country.”
Greidinger says Central Europe was chosen because it’s not too far away and the operations there can be easily visited. Today, 60% of I.T’s screens are outside Israel, a number that will rise to 80%.
Such expansion requires money, however. An attempt to increase liquidity through a listing on Nasdaq Europe came to an abrupt halt at the end of 2003, after the market closed. I.T. is mulling a listing on the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
But it is time rather than money that is in shortest supply, Greidinger says. “The only restraint we have in the rhythm of our developments is management time. On the one hand, there is an existing business that needs overseeing. On the other, there is the expansion drive which will see us double in size — it’s a lot of work.”
“Our part of the business is to build state-of-the-art cinemas with technical standards that make it clear that the best way to see a movie is at the cinema. The most important part of the business, however, is the movies. We have no influence over what is produced and how successful it will be. A year of strong product is essential for maintaining and nurturing cinemagoing habits.”
Central Europe Cinemagoing
“We are dealing with territories where visits per capita per year are about 1.5 for Hungary, 1.2 for Czech Republic and 0.7 for Poland. Compare this to the five visits per capita for the U.S. or two to three visits per capita in Western Europe. Our biggest challenge is raising the visit-per-capita ratio.”
“Digital projection is a great technology but the investment for the industry is still much too high per screen and the difference in quality hardly exists. It will take time.”