Central Europe to see rapid cinema expansion

Report reveals aggressive investment, expansion plans

LONDON -- Distributors trawling the globe for growth markets need look no further than several territories in central Europe, according to the latest report from exhibition specialists Dodona Research.

The report, published Wednesday, says that the 3,157 screens currently found in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are roughly equivalent to the number in Canada or Japan.

But that is set to change with aggressive investment and expansion plans, Dodona says, which may signal an uptick in admissions and boxoffice revenues.

While the returns in the eight central European countries do not yet generate similar levels of boxoffice as the screens in Japan and Canada -- due to lower ticket prices and capacity utilisation -- a boost in numbers would fuel growth.

Dodona estimates that the number of cinema screens in Bulgaria could double by 2013, while in Romania today's screen count of 122 is expected to expand to 350 by the same date.

Report author Alisdair Ritchie said: "In the 20 years that our firm has been monitoring the cinema market, right from the start of the multiplex boom, there has never before been expansion in any country of this scale and rapidity. Obviously there are dangers in such breakneck expansion, but on balance a nation of more than 20 million people can probably absorb the new screens."

Admissions in Romania are forecast to climb from 3.46 million in 2008 to 9.5 million by 2013.

And by 2013 a slew of countries in the region are expected to see per capita levels of attendance on a par with some much richer Western European countries.

The 1.5 cinema visits per head of population expected in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia by 2013 compare with similar levels today in Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The report also notes that central Europe has, following a slow start, joined the digital cinema bandwagon, largely driven by the spectre of 3D movies.

Two exhibitors -- the Czech, Hungarian and Slovak circuit Palace Cinemas, and Multikino in Poland -- have announced their intention to convert their entire circuits to digital. Dodona's report suggests the moves may prove the catalyst for a movement towards complete conversion in some countries of the region.

By 2013 the analysts expect 20 million more cinemagoers than last year and for these 92 million visitors to spend 20% more per ticket purchased -- an uplift helped by the premiums introduced for tickets to 3D performances.