Italy's Strategy for Films to Open on Thursdays Shows Good Results in First Week

"Ice Age: Continental Drift"

Despite far less media attention, Fox's "Ice Age: Continental Drift" has taken in $828.5 million worldwide, compared with Disney's still-strong "Brave," which has grossed $470 million (and continues its overseas rollout).

The goal is to give ticket sales a boost going into the weekend.

ROME – Italy’s experiment with starting the weekend a day early had mostly positive results at the box office.

Last week, most new films in Italy hit cinemas on Thursday instead of Friday with the goal of, according to Richard Borg, president of ANICA, the Italian audiovisual industry association, to give a longer lead-in to the weekend that would help increase overall ticket sales.

“We made this decision to boost ticket sales for Thursdays in a way that could contribute to growing the overall market by creating what amounts to a longer weekend,” Borg said in a statement when the initiative was announced last week.

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At least for the first week, the plan seems to have worked: for the four-day period starting on Thursday and finishing Sunday, the Italian box office was worth €10.5 million ($13.7 million), about a fifth more than both the same days a week earlier and the equivalent weekend in 2011. Most encouragingly, the results for Friday and Saturday showed strong results, perhaps indicating that Thursday’s openings helped create a buzz for some films.

But the uptick may have also been due at least in part to the strong performance of films out this week: animated adventure comedy Ice Age 4: Continental Drift had a strong showing, leading all earners with €3.5 million ($4.6 million), while Seth MacFarlane’s Ted took in €2.5 million ($3.3 million). Both films earned at least three-quarters of their four-day take between Friday and Saturday.

The change also takes place as the beleaguered Italian cinema has started to show signs of life. After declining all year compared to the same months in 2010 and 2011, ticket sales in September were 37 percent higher than in the year ago period, with 8.3 million tickets sold compared to 6.2 million in September 2011. Overall receipts were €56.8 million ($73.8 million), compared to €40.6 million ($52.8 million) a year ago, according to cinema monitoring company Cinetel.

Still, the sector’s performance over the first nine months was still down compared to last year, with ticket sales 13.2 percent lower and overall receipts 11.1 percent lower than the same nine-month period in 2011. If the sector loses ground compared to last year it will be the third consecutive year of decline.

The four-day weekend plan is not a one-off move. ANICA, along with Cinema Exhibitors Association, ANEC, and the National Association of Multiplex Operators, ANEM say that most films will not open in Italy on Thursdays, though it is not immediately clear how the new changes will impact the scheduled Italian releases for international films already on the calendar to take place on Fridays. In many cases, those releases are coordinated with releases on other countries months in advance.