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Have Greek film multiplexes hit a ticket ceiling? November 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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Ten years since the first one opened in Athens

Who would have thought it? Just 10 years since the first cinema multiplex opened in Athens, the historic center in Maroussi has shut down. It is to be made into an office block.

The influx of multiplexes into the Greek market in 1997 signaled a dramatic change on the local scene. In Athens alone, there were 99 new cinema auditoriums; box office receipts more than doubled and brought a night out at the cinema back into fashion. Large towns without film houses suddenly acquired modern multiplexes and access to one of the basic expressions of popular culture.

A small market for the size of the population > The majority of cinemagoers prefer multiplexes, so the crisis affects individual movie houses. Multiplexes are often blamed but it is they that have doubled the number of tickets sold in recent years.

There are many reasons why the original Athenian Village cinema closed down. For instance, it was too close to its larger brother at The Mall. The vigorous development of multiplexes in a virgin market such as that of Greece seems to have come to the end of a stage. None of the three major companies that run multiplexes in Greece, Village Roadshow, Odeon, Ster Cinemas, wants to talk of market saturation but recent examples make it safe to conclude that, despite the addition of new cinema houses, ticket sales have remained worryingly stable.

This is not very good news for a market that is disproportionately small for the size of the population. On average, Greeks go to the cinema slightly more than once a year, compared with three times for the French and four for Americans.

“Demand remains stable, stable at low levels,” explained Odeon Cineplex’s Manager Makis Diamantopoulos. “The market is moving upward, but very slowly, and it concerns mainly Athens, to a lesser extent Thessaloniki, and even less towns in the provinces.”

This is no reason not to celebrate their 10th birthday. Haris Antonopoulos, President and Managing Director of the Village Roadshow group, talked of expectations that have been met: “We have every reason to feel justified. When Village came into the Greek market, ticket sales were at 6-7 million; since then they have doubled to 14 million.”

Yet the market seems to be stuck at 13-14 million tickets and one reason is the lack of many lucrative blockbusters. Antonopoulos wants his company to turn to producing Greek films, at a time when local productions in other European countries bring in 30-40 percent of box office receipts. In Greece, the percentage is far lower, at 5-10 percent.

But stagnation in the Greek market does not mean stagnation when it comes to investment. In Athens, which has supposedly reached saturation point, the market will continue to grow. Village will definitely be at a mall being built on Vouliagmenis Avenue next to the Aghios Dimitrios metro station, and there will be multiplexes in large new malls in Galatsi and Votanikos, next to the planned Panathenaikos stadium. There is also room for development in the southern suburbs, which so far only have the Village complex in Faliron.

Both large and small players in the multiplex market face an insidious rival: the Internet. Being able to download movies from the Internet, often well before their release date at the cinema, would seem to affect all movie houses. Does the fact that viewers aged 12-24, the prime customers of cinemas, multiplexes and others, are more familiar with the Internet make matters worse?

“It depends on how you see ‘going to the cinema,’” commented Diamantopoulos. “If you restrict it to the strictly functional dimension, yes, the Internet is directly competitive. But we don’t go to the cinema just to see a film. There’s a whole social context to it. There’s the before and after, sharing the experience, a whole process is involved in going to the cinema.” He is optimistic.

He thinks there’s a bit of a slump but that it will be absorbed and the market will reach a balance. He cites the example of America: “In the United States, there has been a distinct fall in cinema attendance in recent years, but that was mainly due to very well-organized cable and pay TV. Now that those new products have been absorbed, the public is returning to movies.” And Antonopoulos noted a Greek characteristic: “Regardless of age, Greeks don’t like staying at home.”

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