Austrian box office flexes its muscles

Growth attributed to exhibs bringing multiplex experience to country

The all-time top 10 Austrian films at the home box office. Recent local pics have struggled to reach the high numbers.
1. Hinterholz 8 (Dor Film, 1998) 600,655
2. Poppitz (Dor Film, 2002) 429,814
3. Muellers Buero (Wega-Film, 1986) 439,000
4. Schlafes Bruder (Dor Film, 1995) 305,700
5. MA 2412 — Die Staatsdiener (MR Film, 2003) 272,400
6. Indien (Dor Film, 1993) 221,000
7. Komm, suesser Tod (Dor Film, 2000) 219,241
8. Sei zaertlich, Pinguin (Koepf-Film, 1982) 210,000
9. Silentium (Dor-Film, 2004) 199,505
10. Wanted (MR-Film, 1999) 186,345

1. (T)Raumschiff Surprise (Ger)
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
3. Shrek 2
4. 7 Zwerge — Maunner allein im Wald
5. Troy
6. Something’s Gotta Give
7. Brother Bear
8. The Day After Tomorrow
9. Spider-Man 2
10. The Incredibles

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s homeland, like most European countries, lost some of its cinema muscle in 2003, with admissions falling 8% from 2002’s 19.3 million to 17.7 million in 2003.

But, in 2004, its bounce-back was above the average of its neighbors, with ticket sales reaching 19.4 million and per-person attendance averaging 2.4 compared with 2002’s 2.01.

And the reason? Since the first local plex opened in 1994, Austria has been one of the fastest-growing markets in Europe in terms of admissions, according to industry research org Dodona.

Exhibs have been committed to bringing the multiplex experience to Austrian filmgoers by opening, until 2003, at least one plex a year. The nation’s capital, Vienna, is a hotbed of competition, with 42% of the nation’s multiscreen venues there.

In line with market developments in other maturing European countries, ownership of multiplexes has become more concentrated the last few years; the territory is moving from opening new cinemas to consolidating loops. In 2004, German exhibs quit the market, selling Austrian cinema sites to leading local cinema owner Constantin.

In October, UCI’s Austrian loop (as well as its other international circuits) was sold to U.K. private equity group Terra Firma, making it the sixth-biggest exhib in the world, and the biggest outside the U.S.

Between 1996 and 2004, an average of 245 films were released per year; on average, 16 were local titles. In 2004, 265 foreign movies were released and 24 local pics. Austrian films tend to fall into the arthouse category. While they can perform well at festivals, they rarely make it into the top 10 films of the year at the B.O. The last one to do so was “Hinterholz 8” in 1998.

However, sharing a common language, German films perform well in Austria. In 2004, the top film was Teutonic hit laffer “(T)Raumschiff Surprise: Periode 1,” the sci-fi spoof by Michael “Bully” Herbig.

U.S. titles dominate the market, however, generally accounting for up to 50% of all films released.

A new development for the local industry arrived in 2003 with the introduction of a circuit of digital projectors, specifically for advertising. Some 140 screens were fitted with digital projectors during the year. However, a survey conducted of 500 cinemagoers found that 70% saw no difference between digital and nondigital quality. The remaining 30% preferred digital, however.

Until 2003, admissions rose at an impressive rate in Austria, thanks to the multiplex boom. Between 1998 and 2002, ticket sales climbed by 27% to 19.3 million. In 2003, admissions fell Europewide as a result of disappointing product. Austria was no exception, with an 8% decline in admissions to 17.7 million. Film piracy is an issue in Austria, but not on the scale of the rampant illegal downloading in Germany. The Motion Picture Assn. of America estimates that in 2002 $7 million was lost to piracy in Austria.

However, the country has been identified as one of the favorite points for counterfeit DVDs to enter the European Union market — presumably due to its comparatively relaxed import controls and its proximity to the voracious Teutonic market.

The average cinema ticket price has remained relatively flat the last six years. Austrian exhibs have been active in introducing incentives to maintain and build market share, including loyalty reward cards, online priority booking and pricing discounts.

According to Dodona, the number of multiplex developments, with their greater inclusion and emphasis on concessions, have acted as a catalyst on concession spending per head, which is well above the European average. Concession revenue has grown by 63% since 1998.

Screen advertising is also an increasing source of rev for theater owners.