More multiplex-induced drama for exhibitors

An article by Petra Pospěchová in the 2 January issue of Týden holds multiplexes responsible for the collapse of traditional 'biograf' cinemas. (See full Czech text here.)

The article focuses on Olomouc, where a CineStar multiplex opened in November. The opening of the multiplex was behind schedule, but CineStar had exclusive rights to the premieres, which meant that Olomouc moviegoers had to wait weeks to see films that had opened elsewhere in the country. "We managed to work in only a few pictures in time, when the distributor offered them to us at the last minute," said Jan Joukal, director of Olomouc Cinemas.

Jana Borde Kalinova from distributor Falcon told Týden that multiplexes like CineStar get the premieres because that's where the money comes from. Fair enough. But Jiří Králík, director of the Summer Film School and also head of a cinema in Uherské Hradiště, says the situation in reversed – that the money is at the multiplexes because they get the premieres. Králík sees a cartel situation, wherein distributors take a larger percentage of the sales at the biograf cinemas that from the multiplexes.

The number of Czech cinemas has dropped by half in the last 15 years, Týden claims. At the beginning of the 1990s, there were more than 1300 cinemas; by the end of 2004 that number had fallen to 544. Among these were 15 multiplexes with 137 screens. Týden notes that some of the old-fashioned cinemas had shuttered even before the arrival of the multiplexes.

CineStar director Jan Bradáč rejects the notion that multiplexes could destroy the Czech cinema landscape. According to him the problem for single-screen cinemas is that they aren't able to stand up in the current competitive environment. (Týden fails to note that Bradáč is also director of distributor Falcon.)

Králík says small cinemas are afraid to speak up. "If someone protests the current situation, the distributors make his life difficult. And it will be hard to take the chance," he said, adding that the multiplexes behaving arrogantly. "On Thursday 15 December we didn't play, because the multiplex failed to deliver our copy of Harry Potter, which we had under contract," he told Tyden.

The magazine says it’s the consumers who win in this battle. Apparently most moviegoers visit multiplexes and indie houses. (Imagine!) One Olomoucer said he likes the multiplex's better sound, bigger screen and comfortable seats, but for 'independent films' he prefers the 'chamber environment' of a small cinema.

Týden lists an honour roll of fallen cinemas: in Olomouc, the Central and the Lípa (Pospěchová throws in a lovely detail about the latter, 'on whose darkened balcony generations of locals have made out [muchlovat] and drank too much'). In Dobřany, České Budějovice, Hradec Králové and Plzeň, other small houses have closed after CineStar opened multiplexes nearby. Exhibitors in Liberec are dreading they're next.

The article concludes by noting that small cinemas get some state support, but not much, and that the Czech parliament is supposed to take up an amendment in January that would raise ticket prices to generate more funds that could, possibly, maybe, in part help beleaguered small exhibitors.


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