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Multiplexes may revive Slovak cinema attendance

THE CINEMA business in Slovakia, once a cultural mainstay but now mired in crisis, may get a lifeline from large multiplex theatres, industry watchers say.
According the Slovak Union of Film Distributors, cinema attendance figures fell from over 4 million people in 1998 to 2.6 million in 2000, the worst year on record, and are only now slightly rebounding.
"Last year admissions grew by 200,000. This year we expect growth of 300,000 to 350,000," said Ivan Sollár, general manager of the Tatrafilm film distribution company and head of the Slovak Union of Film Distributors. "We hope we will see a return to 1998 figures over time."


EMPTY house for Lord of the Rings.
photo: TASR

THE CINEMA business in Slovakia, once a cultural mainstay but now mired in crisis, may get a lifeline from large multiplex theatres, industry watchers say.

According the Slovak Union of Film Distributors, cinema attendance figures fell from over 4 million people in 1998 to 2.6 million in 2000, the worst year on record, and are only now slightly rebounding.

"Last year admissions grew by 200,000. This year we expect growth of 300,000 to 350,000," said Ivan Sollár, general manager of the Tatrafilm film distribution company and head of the Slovak Union of Film Distributors. "We hope we will see a return to 1998 figures over time."

Slovak cinema attendance is well below the European average. According to industry statistics, most western countries see an annual cinema visit rate of two per person. In Slovakia, however, there are only 0.7 annual visits per person, said Sollár. "The Czech Republic last year had a value of 1.1, while in big cities like Paris or Amsterdam, people visit cinemas 3 times a year on average."

Although big cities in Slovakia are already seeing a turnaround, the cinema industry in other areas is still struggling. "Last year, 35 cinemas were closed across Slovakia, and this trend, especially in small towns and villages, is still gaining strength," said Sollár.

Noting that 2001 national box-office receipts rose to Sk200 million ($4 million) from Sk151 million in 2000, Sollár attributed the growth to the opening of the Ster Century multiplex in Bratislava.

"Only cinemas in big cities like Žilina, Prešov and Banská Bystrica are achieving good financial results, but this also can not be generalised. For example, the situation in Slovakia's second largest city, Košice, surprisingly worsened," Sollár added.

The generally low purchasing power of the Slovak population, as well as rising ticket prices, have kept people away from cinemas, said Ster Century general manager Vojtech Kabath.

"In Bratislava the price of the ticket is not as crucial as it is in other regions of Slovakia, where people are not ready to pay enough to let cinemas survive."

Sollár noted that average ticket prices, which were Sk22 in 1994, more than doubled by 1998, and climbed to Sk70 last year. Tickets at Ster Century, which features large screens, new equipment and comfortable seating, can reach Sk150.

Kabath sees multiplexes as a solution, at least for larger cities. "The planned multiplex at Aupark shopping centre, with a capacity of 2,400 seats, could attract 15,000 people a week. But I can't even guess its future market share, because besides regrouping customers, new viewers will be attracted. In Brno [Czech Republic] the market grew by 80 per cent after a multiplex opened," said Kabath.

The current Bratislava multiplex has had a big impact on the surrounding region, said Sollár. "Some of our customers come from Galanta, Dunajská Streda or even Piešťany [about 45 minutes by car] just to visit Ster Century in Bratislava. This could also be a solution for towns near other big cities, provided multiplex cinemas are built there."

Sollár added, however, that he was unaware of any plans to build multiplexes outside Bratislava.

Kabath said: "Once we open our new multiplex in Bratislava, we will get an idea of what the situation is like. Perhaps in a year we'll be able to say whether we will spread our activities further."

Sollár thinks small-town cinemas could improve attendance through "more comfortable seating, air conditioning, services like cafes or fast food restaurants, and of course better equipment, which would improve the quality of sound and picture."

However, the needed investment is hard to come by. "The reconstruction of an average rural cinema would cost from Sk4 to Sk6 million. Taking into account that there are approximately 70 cinemas worth fighting for, Slovakia 'lacks' about Sk420 million for cinema renewal," said Sollár.

Štefan Vraštiak from the Slovak Film Institute said the roots of the present problem lay in former state ownership. "For 40 years the state kept receiving all the income from performances, but didn't invest anything back.

"The state of Slovak cinemas is absolutely critical, not even five per cent of them meet European standards," said Vraštiak.

In spite of the obstacles, Sollár said he was optimistic about the future of the Slovak cinema industry. "Generally the situation is getting better, and after a downturn in the last few years, we are on a good track. New trends will help us reach the standards of the western world."

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