U.K. exhibs must have drunk a magic potion last year as the number of 3D screens shot up from 70 to 450. This year has seen an additional 25% rise to reach 560 3D screens out of a total screen base of 3,600, research company Screen Digest reports. It forecasts up to 900 3D screens will be installed in the next five years, or 25% of the total number of screens.

The premium for 3D tickets is around 40% on top of the average price of £5.44 ($8.37), which boosted B.O. 10.5% in 2009, while admissions climbed only 5%. The B.O. for 3D pics reps 31% of the total so far this year.

“The major challenges ahead are being able to finance digital equipment and being able to roll it out fast enough to accommodate the slate of 3D titles for 2010,” says Charlotte Jones, a senior analyst at Screen Digest.

Market leader Odeon has 170 3D screens out of a total 823, or 18%. By year end, that figure will rise to at least 30%. Drew Kaza, Odeon’s exec VP, digital development, is confident that demand will justify the investment.

“There is real staying power to the bigger 3D films. This was one of the fundamental things that came up in the whole discussion with Disney,” Kaza says, referring to the dispute over “Alice in Wonderland’s” shortened theatrical window. “We told them, ‘You are not recognizing how much money you are leaving on the table if you go for an early DVD window. These films can run and run and run.’ ‘Avatar’ has proven that.”