International and local exhibitors in Brazil have stepped up the pace in their ongoing race to provide this hugely under-screened territory with more multiplexes.

In December, Cinemark International dethroned local giant exhibitor Severiano Ribeiro from its dominant position of many years. The Texas-based circuit now boasts 258 screens, with an additional 40 screens in four sites planned to go up this year. Ribeiro operates 170 screens with a further 15 scheduled in 2002. The third largest player, UCI, has 99 screens in nine sites.

Newcomer Cinebox, controlled by GMR (Spain), has plans to open an annual average of 30 screens over the coming years, according to director Miguel Fontanet. In terms of market share, Cinemark has captured a 25% slice while Ribeiro has 21% and UCI controls12%.

The current battle has centred in Sao Paolo state, specifically the municipality (pop: 3m) of Campinas where between them Cinemark, Ribeiro and Cinebox will open a total of 33 new screens in the short term. Cinemark plans to open three to five complexes a year for the next several years in Brazil, " according to Tim Warner, President, Cinemark International.

The upsurge in theatre construction has seen a 44% rise in the country's screen count since 1997 when it had roughly 1,000 screens. Nowadays, Brazil has an estimated 1,600-plus screens, still inadequate for a country twice the size of Mexico which has around 3,000 screens.

Admissions have risen steadily as a result of the building activity. Local market researcher Filme B reports that Brazil admissions increased to 67.8m during the Jan to Nov 2001 period compared to 61.9m in 2000 and 56.6m in 1999.

However, while Brazil's exhibition potential is recognised - and made more attractive by favourable exchange rates, it remains unlikely that additional operators will enter the market.

Cinebox's recent arrival, following that of Hoyts General Cinema in 1999, has increased the competition for viable locations and, unlike in previous years in other territories, multi-national exhibitors are now more interested in exploiting under-developed markets, such as China, rather than joining a race towards saturation.