From: Oxford, OH
Registered: May 2003
posted December 31, 2004 06:54 AM
Staying alive on a single screen
Multiplexes gaining popularity, forcing smaller cinemas to adapt to survive
Cinema City at Palac Flora is one of several Prague multiplexes that are putting the squeeze on small, independent theaters.
By S. Adam Cardais
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
Dec. 23, 2004
Every week, Nora, a local bar owner and police academy student, goes to the movies at least twice to relax after the stress of work and school. While she enjoys going to art-house cinemas, she usually prefers the atmosphere of a multiplex.
"The major point is comfort," said Nora, who did not want her last name used. "I know I can go [to a multiplex], pick a row and a seat, sit down and not be bothered by anyone. I can switch off and relax."
In the past five years, comfort and superior technology have proved to be crowd-pleasers, contributing to the popularity of multiplexes. Smaller theaters have struggled to compete and must cater to niche markets to survive.
Rise of the multiplex
In 1999, there were only two multiplexes in the Czech Republic, and they controlled nearly 10 percent of the market. Now there are 15 -- 10 in Prague. In 2003, those 15 grabbed a 54 percent market share.
The rapid growth over the last five years is a clear indicator that the market was under-developed. People wanted, and continue to want, the comfort of reclining seats, head rests and large screens with quality sound, said Tomas Palicka, general director of Village Cinemas and this year's spokesman for the Multiplex Cinema Operators Association.
But the rise of multiplexes hasn't been good for other cinemas. In 1999, there were 710 movie theaters in the country. That number has declined steadily ever since. In 2003, there were 623.
Smaller cinemas struggled when multiplexes first appeared because they had no idea how to compete. Some continued showing blockbusters like Titanic and other Hollywood fare. They saw audience numbers drop dramatically because people didn't want to see that type of movie at smaller theaters, said Ivo Andrle, one of the directors of Aero and Svetozor, two of Prague's premier art-house cinemas.
Multiscreen theaters have muscled their way into the market in recent years, forcing smaller movie houses to be creative to keep their doors open
• Multiplexes: Comfort, technology and selection are the big draws of multiscreen theaters
• Small theaters: Hollywood blockbusters are out, independent art films and festivals are in
Svetozor was one of the theaters that suffered from trying to compete with multiplexes. Andrle said attendance dropped to as few as 15 people a screening.
"There is no chance to compete on the Hollywood films," he said. "The only way out is to stop competing for the titles with the multiplexes."
Smaller cinemas had to seek out a niche market to stay competitive, which they eventually did by focusing on lower budget, art-house and independent films that weren't being shown at multiscreen theaters.
Special film events, such as the annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, have given smaller, independent films exposure and helped cultivate an audience that theaters like Svetozor, Aero or Evald now cater to.
"In Prague, I would say a typical successful small cinema is Evald," said Irena Prokopova, secretary of the Cinema Operators Association. "It only offers 73 seats but has a loyal audience, people who know that they can look forward to good films. It's like a sort of family theater."
Smaller theaters have also started to cooperate to stay competitive. In the past, they competed for viewers, but now they're uniting to compete with the multiplexes. "They have to. It takes a lot for a small cinema to survive these days," said Anna Cerna, secretary of the Film Distributors Union.
But multiplexes are also competing. The popularity of independent films hasn't gone unnoticed, and many multiplexes have responded by screening them alongside Hollywood blockbusters. That could present a problem for smaller theaters.
For film buffs like Nora, access to a wide variety of films -- artistic and blockbuster -- is key.
"[The multiplexes] realize there's a demand for it," she said. "Even if the smaller cinemas go out of business, they know the audience will still be there."
-- Petr Kaspar contributed to this report.
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