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Peixoto pursues UCI's growing opportunities.

HOLLYWOOD Life is not simple for Joe Peixoto, Cinema Expo's Exhibitor of the Year. Start with the litany of concerns familiar to all U.S. exhibs-protecting key markets, disposing of older, obsolete theaters and rising labor costs; add in such esoteric issues as Polish dining habits, Chinese government regulations and Italian building permits, and you get an idea of what an average day holds.

For the past two years, Peixoto has been president and CEO of United Cinemas Intl., the overseas theatrical joint venture between Paramount and Universal, which operates 721 screens in 93 complexes in Europe, Latin America and Japan.

But if Peixoto faces challenges his domestic counterparts don't, the L.A.-based exec remains upbeat because he knows that the international arena possesses vast growth potential unlike the relatively mature U.S. market.

"We project that over the next two years about two-thirds of the box office will come from international," says Peixoto, who adds that attendance overseas is climbing at a faster rate than in North America.

The increases are even more dramatic in countries where the older, crumbling theatres are being updated with state-of-the-art complexes.

Peixoto, 46, was born in Portugal, where he lived until the age of 7 before moving with his family to San Jose, Calif. After attending UCLA, he stayed in Los Angeles, landing sales jobs with United Artists and now-defunct distributor AFD.

In 1980, Peixoto moved to the exhibition side of the business, for a five-year stint with Mann Theatres, where he eventually served as head film buyer.

After senior posts at De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and L.A.-based Metropolitan Theatres, Peixoto began his nearly decadelong association with Paramount Pictures.

He joined Par as senior VP of the Theatrical Exhibition Group, overseeing the studio's cinema holdings, which included Canadian circuit Famous Players, as well as Par's interests in Mann Theatres and UCI.

In 1992, Peixoto took over the helm of Famous Players and five years later, he joined UCI.

"He's done a great job at all the places he's been," says Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen. "His long background and his experience in the Canadian market helped him go forward in the international marketplace."

With a comfortable base of 30 sites comprising 296 screens in the U.K. -- controlling about 22% of the marketplace -- as well as solid holdings in Germany and Spain, UCI has recently ventured into several virtually untapped territories.

UCI operates the only multiplex in Poland, an eight-plex in Poznan, which already commands an amazing 5% of the country's B.O. Another site outside Warsaw is due to open this fall.

"It highlights the lack of infrastructure in a lot of these countries as well as the opportunities for international theater operators," says Peixoto.

UCI was formed in 1988 when three partners, the United Artists circuit, Paramount and MCA, bought AMC's U.K. theater holdings. UA dropped out about a year later, leaving Paramount and MCA (now Universal) as the joint owners.

Paramount is in talks to buy Universal out of the partnership and become the sole owner.

The company has five theaters in Brazil, with three more expected to open this year. And its latest venture, just outside Milan in Bergamo, Italy, is set for a December or January opening.

Other territories include Japan, Ireland, Portugal, Panama and Argentina. UCI's new theaters, which range from 14 to 20 screens per site, are all stadium-seating, large-screen complexes with digital sound.

But if the theaters are state-of-the-art, moviegoers' expectations differ from territory to territory.

For instance, eating popcorn -- the linchpin to profitability for U.S. theater owners --has yet to catch on in Poland or Spain.

"We're trying to encourage them to view it as part of the experience," says Peixoto.

In the U.K., on the other hand, popcorn is big but the British prefer their kernels sweet rather than salty. And while steins of beer are common in Germany, most Europeans don't know what to make of huge cups of soda with ice.

Reserved seating, available in only a handful of "luxury" theaters in the U.S., is standard in many other countries, as is the ability to buy tickets by phone.

Tastes in film also vary. In Spain, for instance, the locally produced "Torrente" was almost as big a hit as "Titanic" last year.

For these reasons, and because of differences in local real estate and business practices, UCI's administration is largely decentralized.

In addition to its small L.A. headquarters, UCI has regional offices in Manchester, England, and Barcelona, Spain, as well as offices in each country where it has theaters.

Peixoto racks up the frequent-flyer miles, spending 10 to 14 days on the road monthly.

UCI soon could face its toughest challenge as it considers a push into China. While the vast Chinese market is a potential gold mine, government regulations make investment a risky proposition.

The biggest problem remains the government's refusal to allow more than a dozen or so foreign films per year into the country.

But there are other obstacles to Chinese theater-building as well, including strict import laws that could prevent UCI bringing in top projection and sound equipment.

The precarious state of U.S.-China relations was highlighted recently when Beijing temporarily pulled all American films from theaters in the wake of the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

But Peixoto seems characteristically unfazed by the problems. He says, "We're trying to apply the lessons we've learned in other areas."
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Title Annotation:Joe Peixoto of United Cinemas International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 21, 1999
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