Summer ticket sales key to Italian boxoffice

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ROME -- Fresh on the heels of its best year at the boxoffice in nearly three decades, experts here say the prospects for improving on those results may hinge on whether or not Italians can continue to buck tradition by going to the movies during their long vacation summer months.

According to the cinema monitoring company Cinetel, Italians bought 103 million movie tickets in 2007, the most since 1978. And with 31.7% of the total boxoffice going to Italian productions or co-productions, it was the best year for Italian films since 1986.

It was the third consecutive year total ticket sales rose and the fourth straight year Italy's share of the total box office increased.

Many predict the trend will continue into the future.

"There's no doubt 2007 was a banner year, and I think we're poised for another one in 2008," said Riccardo Tozzi, president of both Cattleya Studios and the cinema, audiovisual, and multimedia association ANICA.

"I think Italian films will take 32% or 33% of the total market this year and as much as 40% in 2009," Tozzi added.

Some are saying that if that will happen it will be because the summer months were strong. Traditionally, Italians stay away from cinemas during the summer, preferring instead to be outside. But as habits change and studios become more willing to release blockbusters during the summer months, that lull has been less noticeable.

"The major difference between ticket sales in 2007 and those from other years was the performance in June and July," said Giuseppe Mazzei, a communications expert with Rome's Sapienza University and a frequent commentator on media issues. "In 2007, two of the year's biggest films -- 'Harry Potter' and 'Transformers' -- came out in the summer."

Paolo Protti, president of ANEC, the national association of cinema retailers, agreed.

"I would have a hard time imagining that if June and July this year come out ahead of the same months in 2007 that the year as a whole won't be stronger," Protti said.

Will those months be stronger? Studios say they have confidence in their lineups for 2008, but release dates only firm up three or four months in advance, and so the lineup for the early summer is still open to speculation.

Additionally, there's always the possibility that a sleeper film will be a big success, or that an expected blockbuster falls flat.

"I think the success of the year will all come down to whether or not big films get released in time to boost the summer receipts," Protti said, "and whether those films play well in the Italian market."
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