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Downturn causes Italo exhibs to fear plex glut.

MILAN After lagging behind most of Western Europe for years, Italy's exhibition sector boomed in 1998, bolstered by a humming box office, new cinemas and multiplexes and 300 new screens.

Income grew by 19% to $627 million, with admissions close to 118 million.

But the boom was short-lived.

Revenues dropped 9% and admissions dropped 9.5% in the first five months of this year, according to the national exhibitors association ANEC.

"This disappointing result was mainly due to the quality of movies this year," says Antonio Salvatori, head of distribution and exhibition at Istituto Luce, one of the main cinema operators in Italy, where it has three joint ventures with distributors BIM-Mikado, Warner-Cinecitta and Mediaport.

"In 1998, `Titanic' had a record gross of $75 million and helped the whole sector. This year we had no real hits so far," Salvatori said.

In the 1997-98 season to August 1998, the other Hollywood pics that did well were "My Best Friend's Wedding," "Hercules" and "Seven Years in Tibet." Three Italian pics ranked second, third and fourth: "Fuochi d'Artificio" (Fireworks), Oscar winner "Life Is Beautiful" and "Three Men and a Leg."

In the 1998-99 season, "Life" had the largest gross, adding about $24 million to its $25 million the previous season, followed by "Shakespeare in Love" and "Saving Private Ryan."

In 1998, multiplexes finally boomed in Italy, helped by a new licensing legislation that reduces restrictions. Commercial centers were built in the outskirts of cities, where viewers can rind cinemas with state-of-the-art technology and all comforts, a wide choice of films, free parking and restaurants.

"Multiplexes are the winning formula, everybody expects multiscreen sites located in commercial malls to be much more successful than old-style little ventures or even city plexes with no facilities such as parking," says Antonio Autieri, editor in chief of Boxoffice trade magazine. "But if all the planned multiplexes are built, and the box office remains depressed, many operators will face financial problems in the future."

Warner Village Italia, the joint venture between Warner Bros., Australia's Village Road-show and Italy's Focus Intl., opened three multiplexes at the end of 1997 and an 18-screen complex in Rome last December. In Rome, it has reached 800,000 admissions and now has a 17% share of the city's market.

Virtually all major cinema operators have announced they will build multiplexes. In the next few months, Warner will open a new multiplex in Cinecitta with Istituto Luce and Cinecitta Holding, a 11-plex in Perugia and a 14-plex in Pescara in Southern Italy. Medusa, the film unit of Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest, which owns several city plexes, says it will invest $300 million to build 20 multiplexes during the next five years, the first of which will open in Bologna.

De Laurentiis deal

In May, De Laurentiis joined forces with Loews Cineplex Entertainment to invest $200 million in 15 to 20 multiplexes. Mediaport, the cinema consortium including Istituto Luce and other Italian partners, inked a deal with Naples-based Stella Film and plans to inaugurate 25 multiplexes with 100 screens mainly in Southern Italy. Cecchi Gori Group, Italy's largest cinema chain, says it will open new ventures, starting with city plexes.

Besides Warner and Loews Cineplex, other international players with Italian ambitions are France's Pathe and UCI.

In 1998, Pathe pacted with Italian exhibitor VIS to build an unspecified number of multiplexes in Italy. Their first site, due to open in a new multifunctional center called Lingotto near Turin, was delayed by red tape but is expected to go through. UCI has just announced it will open its new multiplex at the end of this year in Bergamo and more will follow.
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Title Annotation:Italian box office
Comment:Downturn causes Italo exhibs to fear plex glut.(Italian box office)
Author:ZECCHINELLI, CECILIA
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:606
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