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Czech plexes make debut.

PRAGUE For most moviegoers in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, catching a film means enduring poorly equipped single screens with maybe a soft-drink machine nearby. This's about to change.

In October, Ster Century will open the first world-class multiplex in the Czech Republic, a 14-screener in Brno. It's the first of five sites in the Czech Republic and one in Slovakia as part of Ster Century's recently announced grand European plan.

And if Prague, Czech Republic, audiences are anything to judge by, it should be overflowing with families, teens and young professionals.

In the three years since the eight-screen Galaxie opened, it has attracted 13% of ticket sales for the country, and some 30% of Prague sales. Built in a concrete suburb and without the safety net of a mall, the Galaxie has spurred retail and entertainment development in the surrounding area, creating a new hot spot for young locals. Now it is positioned to serve as the cornerstone of a new mall and will add six screens in the next year.

Even without the $4 ticket deemed necessary to support multiplexing, the Galaxie "is doing excellent business," says Peter Kot, manager of Multikino '93, which owns the plex and runs several other single cinemas. But, he cautions, the only way to survive is low technical and low advertising costs.

"You need to diversity to cover dropoffs in cinema business from time to time," he says, adding Galaxie's numerous concessions are essential to its bottom line.

Distributors are keen on the arrival of multiplexes. "Everybody has accepted that the way to increase business is multiplexes," says Milica Pechankova of Bontonfilm.

Jan Bradac, managing director of rival distrib Falcon, predicts, "The beginning will be huge, but the question is how long will these people keep going. I know the situation for them won't be easy."

A problem is the recession, entering its third year, which with the falling currency has seen profits turn into fewer dollars.

Down the road could be a plex glut. With Cineplex Odeon and Village Roadshow among the foreign exhibitors linking up and a boom in mall construction under way, Brno could be the first site of plex wars if all planned projects go ahead. Prague, too, could be plex-heavy three years down the road.

Local developers haven't found the going easy. Bontonfilm and Gaumont dropped their heralded plan for six plexes. And Kot warns, "To make such an investment in Slovakia is a big risk." After years of struggling with the Slovakian bureaucracy, he says, "We are very tired."

Heading to Amsterdam for the screenings of their fall slate of films, exhibs and distribs are counting on the new "Star Wars" to spearhead the annual fall return of audiences to the cinemas.

But no one expects to get the B.O. boost brought by "Titanic" last year. As Pechankova says, "The honeymoon with American films is over."
CZECH REPUBLIC & SLOVAKIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

 Box office: $14 million
 Admissions: 9.25 million
 Screens: 600
 Sites: 580

SLOVAKIA

 Box office: $4.3 million
 Admissions: 4.08 million
 Screens: 250
 Sites: 240

MAIN EXHIBITORS (COMBINED)

                SCREENS     SITES

Tatra Film         13        13
Multikino          12         5
Intersonic          7         4
Bonton              7         7
Bioscope            7         7
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Title Annotation:Czech Republic
Comment:Czech plexes make debut.(Czech Republic )
Author:MEILS, CATHY
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:533
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