Increased competition crowds already tight market

· How Much Do You Make (Palace)
· Inside Deep Throat (Dendy)
· Keeping Mum (Icon)
· Last Days (Rialto)
· Mrs. Henderson Presents (Hopscotch)
2004 STATS
Top film: Shrek 2 (UIP, $39 million)
Top indie film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Roadshow Films, $23.5 million)
Total B.O.: $703 million
Releases: 319
Screens: 1,909

SYDNEY — With box office down 14% compared with this time last year, distribs and exhibs Down Under are concerned the trend will continue, especially arthouse folk who traditionally do their best business January through Easter.

“The year has been average to disappointing so far,” says Palace Cinemas general manager Nicolas Whatson. “I Heart Huckabees” and “Sideways” performed well but “we’re missing strong blockbuster arthouse titles like ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’ Films like ‘A Very Long Engagement’ just didn’t achieve the success we’d hoped for.”

Dendy Distribution co-general manager Richard Peyten says the downturn is due to weak product, but “it has probably got something to do with home entertainment and DVD, too.”

The growth of home entertainment has emboldened some DVD distribs to enter theatrical distribution. They want a slice of theatrical revs and the benefit of the publicity of a bigscreen release before a title heads to disc. As a result, there are more distribs crowding an already tight market in the competition for screens and prized dates.

In some cases, such as DV1’s release of “Outfoxed,” the distrib hit’s a bull’s eye. But, in general, Whatson believes that the crowding results in confusion and anger among auds suckered into seeing poor-quality pics.

Sales of arthouse films to commercial broadcasters remains difficult, but some nets are letting their acquisition deals lapse, giving hope of improved sales opportunities to independent distribs.