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» Cinematour Forum   » Cinemas in the News   » Prague: Single-screen cinemas fight back as audiences dwindle

Author Topic: Prague: Single-screen cinemas fight back as audiences dwindle
Mark Sachleben
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From: Oxford, OH
Registered: May 2003

 - posted July 03, 2003 08:27 AM      Profile for Mark Sachleben   Email Mark Sachleben         Edit/Delete Post

By Petra Pasternak
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(July 3, 2003)

An interesting article (website has some pictures)


It's a tough time for Prague's single-screen movie theaters. Since the coming of big multiplexes to this market, small theaters have been struggling to stay alive.

In their efforts to define their place on the market, small theaters have looked well beyond the popcorn and soft-drink formula, building noncommercial programs and trying to create distinctive moviegoing experiences.

Zuzana Mattlachova and her brother Jan opened Kino MAT at Karlovo namesti in 1994. Things were going well. Then, starting in the mid-1990s, the first multiplex came to town. At first, Mattlachova wasn't worried. "My thinking was, this won't be a threat to us," she said.

But it has been. Kino MAT's attendance dropped in the last few years as the market became saturated. "The multiplexes can't fill up, much less us," Mattlachova said.

Existing alternative theaters have had to find other means to bring in money. Kino MAT rents out its theater and upstairs restaurant/cafe to private firms, turning its otherwise disadvantageous size into an asset. Once a boiler room, the reconstructed cinema seats 45.

Even with this sort of business model, however, the cinema is limping along. Admissions dropped year on year from slightly under 2,000 in May 2001 to just above 1,000 in May of this year. With no support from the state or a cinema organization, MAT is working to attract school groups and companies to take up the slack.

One of Prague's classic cinemas, the centrally located Kino Lucerna, is also feeling the pain. "We used to have 2,000 people come during one weekend," said director Bohdan Picha. "Last weekend, for five showings, only 200 came."

Lucerna's audiences have been shrinking every year since 2000. Between 2001 and 2002, visitors dropped from an annual 69,000 to 47,000, a 32 percent slide. "We're trying to solve this by doing the artistic-movie thing," Picha said. "But it's a real struggle -- a struggle for movies and for audiences." Lucerna's managers are also trying to clinch a deal with the popular cafe located in the theater's lobby. It is independently owned and operated.

Ads in decline

It's not just the movie audiences that are dwindling. During the past three years, advertising volume has plummeted 80 percent at Lucerna, and there's no sign of relief. "After the bill outlawing tobacco funding of culture goes into effect next year, things will be very bad," Picha said.

The theater's operator, Multikino93, has infused Lucerna with nearly 3 million Kc ($107 million) in private financing during the past five years. But Picha doesn't see any easy long-term solutions. "The city offers subsidies," he said. "We're going to try for those." Also on the hit list are the Culture Ministry, European funds and corporate sponsors.

Lucerna has in the past benefited from grants from the Eurimages Fund, a European support fund for the European Council's co-production of films. But the 290,000 Kc annual grant that the fund dispenses doesn't go far. "It pays the electricity bill for half a year," Picha said. To qualify for the grant, at least half of a theater's showings must be European films. The problem is that the economic losses from not playing Hollywood films are far larger than the grant, according to Picha. Lucerna's operating costs top 240,000 Kc per month.

Hope in the projection booth

Not all movie theaters are on the brink of starvation, though.

In 2002, Zizkov's popular alternative Kino Aero pulled in 7 million Kc, though fully half its revenue goes to film distributors. Aero has evolved in the spirit of the true alternative theater combined with a relaxed cafe/bar. The bar makes up about a third of the theater's income, according to Aero's director, Ivo Andrle.

Aero is doing something right. The 5-year-old movie theater's visitor numbers have steadily climbed from some 66,000 per year in 1999 to nearly 111,000 in 2002.

The theater's eight full-time staff members, including four managers, scour the world market for rare and culturally rich films, buy the screening rights and often translate them into Czech.

Aero gets help from various sources. Europa Cinemas, a network of 300 movie theaters, doles out up to 15,000 euros (473,000 Kc/$17,000) per year to cinemas that devote at least half their programs to European films. The state fund for the support of Czech cinematography bolstered Aero's coffers with 1 million Kc for a 2001 reconstruction. Prague 3 City Hall footed the bill for brand-new seats.

More screens, bigger audience

Palace Cinemas, one of three multiplex operators, runs four Prague multiplex cinemas, which in 2002 together raised 57 percent of the city's box office. The first, Park Hostivar, opened with 10 screens and 2,134 seats in September 2000. Slovansky Dum, Novy Smichov and Letnany followed.

In 2002, some 3 million people saw movies at Palace Cinemas in the Czech Republic, 1.9 million of them in Prague, according to marketing manager Petra Zemanova. And multiplexes are not experiencing any of the smaller houses' woes. Palace Cinemas has recorded 15 to 20 percent annual growth in visitors, Zemanova said.

"Moviegoing is growing in popularity," she said. "It may be in part due to our promotional activities, but it's also due to the people's rising buying power," she added.

What does the average Czech moviegoer look like? He or she is a young person -- 76 percent are between the ages of 15 and 29, with a monthly income between 25,000 Kc and 40,000 Kc. Every third person in the Czech Republic goes to the movies once every two weeks. By far the most popular movie genre is comedy, closely followed by action and crime films, according to a report by RMB Czech Arcona, a cinema tracking agency.

Together, Palace Cinemas, Village Cinemas and IT International Theatres hold 80 percent of the Prague market. Their combined 2002 revenue was 348 million Kc.

The Palace Cinemas behemoth, for one, doesn't try to compete with the little guys. "We don't want to compete with alternative cinemas," Zemanova said. "We cater to a different audience."

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