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Vienna's multi boom.

PRAGUE The Cinema Expo trade fair should see a small army of Austrians checking out the latest offerings as the country is approaching the crest of a mini-and multiplex construction boom that is expected to yield more than 100 new screens.

While even small towns are benefiting from the upgrading of existing sites into six-screen miniplexes, it's Vienna that's seeing the bulk of building.

Georg Mayerhofer, president of the Cinema Exhibitors Assn. predicts, "There will be a big oversupply in 1 1/2 years. Single operators are dying in a 10-to 20-kilometer radius of the multiplexes. In the next two years, there will be a large dying-out, especially around Vienna."

Leading the brigade are some of the usual suspects. UCI, which already has plexes in Graz and suburban Vienna, has a 24-and a nine-screener under way, while local Goliath, Constantine, will open a 14-screener in Vienna before year's end.

Constantine looks set to stay the leading operator. It plans a 30% increase in seating capacity, with additional plexes in Linz this year and Innsbruck in 2000.

Its nearest competitor, and former partner, Kiba, recently was privatized by a group of Austrian investors that includes leading Austrian production company DOR Film as well as producer Allegro Film and distributor Filmladen.

Programmer Axel Walde says the company (which should have a new name by the time Walde arrives at Cinema Expo) has plans for upgrading its cinemas. When at the expo, Walde says, "It's very important to see the films as well as ideas for modernizing seats, screens and surroundings."

Heinz Hueber, whose Kino Co. is in a joint venture with Hoyts for a pair of new plexes, says of Austrian audiences, "They want more than perfect view, comfort, quality and service; 80% of tickets are sold by reservation."

Mayerhofer agrees, noting, "Stadium seating is very important." He adds that Austrians are developing a liking for nachos and popcorn in addition to their European cafe tastes.

But for Mayerhofer, the must-see this year is simultaneous digital video projection. "I'm very excited and very afraid of it," he says, thinking of the future advantages and upgrading costs it implies.

Everyone's looking forward to the films, especially "Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace." But there's little consensus over the rest of the lineup. High expectations range from "Tarzan" to Bond to the German film "Werner."

Hollywood still dominates Austrian box office -- it won nine out of the top 10 slots last year, but the biggest surprise came with a local rustic comedy, "Hinterholz 8," which hit second place with a remarkable 600,000 viewers.

Attendance expected to rise in future

While box office was down in the first half of this year, with nary a "Titanic" in sight, Hueber expects that the new multiplexes will increase attendance next year. His first multiplex was largely responsible for a 2.7% increase in box office in 1996, Hueber claims.

With ticket prices at a plateau, the biggest beneficiary could be audiences. With all the competition among multiplexes from Innsbruck to Vienna, some insiders are predicting a price war in the not too distant future in a land near, near at hand.

Box office:  $100 million
Admissions:  15.2 million
Screens:  424
Sites:  237

              SCREENS   SITES

Constantine       96        21
Kiba              30        10
Kino              20         2
UCI               17         2
Purner             8         1
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Title Annotation:Austria box office
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Previous Article:Czech plexes make debut.
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