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Kinepolis still rules Belgian screen scene.

BRUSSELS 1998 saw Belgium continue to strengthen its reputation as one of Europe's more pesky movie markets, with total audiences up 10% year on year to reach 25 million--that's an average of 2 1/2 movies for every member of the population.

Much of this growth was due to "Titanic," and most insiders see more modest returns this year. Nonetheless, exhibs expect healthy audience increases for a few more years as the infrastructure continues to get bigger and better.

Multiplex pioneer Kinepolis remains at the top of the pile, with over 50% market share last year, and with 10 sites covering all the major towns in Belgium, its position is threatened only by the government's competition authorities, who have placed a 20% cap on any investment by the company in new ventures.

Getting into the act

Meanwhile, others are getting in on the multiplex act. The second-largest exhib, UGC, recently gave its Brussels complexes a complete makeover, and announced at Cannes this year plans for two new sites in Liege and Louvain-la Neuve.

French-based Gaumont has shown that Kinepolis' out-of-town strategy is not the only route to success. The company opened a downtown 17-screener in Antwerp over a year ago that has upped overall attendance in the city by some 30%. Another local cinema will be refurbished this year, giving them a total of 21 screens in the region.

The Belgian arthouse scene got a boost in late 1998 with small-scale specialist Kladaradatsch!'s long-awaited opening in downtown Brussels of a so-called miniplex, which has three screens. With an older audience than the multiplex crowd, we hope to avoid getting sucked into competing against them," general manager Noel Sweiden says.

Imports popular

Mainstream product from the U.S. and Europe continues to dominate the Belgian market. Apart from "Titanic," the big movies of 1998 were "Armageddon" and "Saving Private Ryan," with French offering "Le Diner des Cons" (The Dinner Game) and Italian Oscar winner "Life Is Beautiful also doing well. The top Belgian films only just made it into the top 100, with pics "Place Vendome," "Licht" and "Left Luggage" getting some limited exposure.

The success of Belgian product at Cannes this year -- with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "Rosetta" taking the Palme d'Or and the prize for best actress -- is likely to increase interest in local product during the coming year.

Tech talk

At this year's Cinema Expo, Belgian exhibs will be keeping tabs on the latest technological developments. Says Rafael Senelle, head of marketing and programming for Gaumont, "Our expansion plans mean we need to know how to keep the quality of our product ahead of the field. We're also interested in opening an Imax cinema, and will want to see how our leisure-complex approach to cinemas compares with the rest of Europe."

Networking will also be high on their list. According to Guy Morlion, general secretary of the Assn. of Belgian Cinemas, "We always use (Cinema) Expo as a chance to make contacts and explore the potential for pan-European partnerships."

But the exhibs like to talk policy, too. "Belgian cinema is concerned about the threat posed by other media like the Internet and digital TV," Morlion says. "I'll be looking to firm up a European position on this that we can use to lobby European policymakers."
BELGIUM

Box office:  $130
Admissions:  25 million
Screens:  495
Sites:  140

MAIN EXHIBITORS

                     SCREENS    SITES
Kinepolis              121        10
Carpentier              32         3
UGC                     26         2
Hanne                   24         4
Cinecity                22        -3
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Title Annotation:Belgium movie theaters
Comment:Kinepolis still rules Belgian screen scene.(Belgium movie theaters)
Author:STERN, ANDY
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:578
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