Canadians went to the pictures in record numbers in 1998-99 - the biggest years since 1972 - but that hasn't helped exhibitors' profitability, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada, surveying all 692 of the nation's cinemas and drive-ins.

Lured by multi-screen theatres with stadium-style seats and expanded common areas featuring video games and fast-food franchises, attendance reached a 38-year high of 112.8 million admissions, a 12% increase from the previous year, and double the growth rate from the previous six fiscal years. Total revenue amounted to $569m, including box office receipts of $393m. However, industry profits were down 13% to $75.7m, reflecting the expansion woes affecting the industry across North America.

The spike in attendance is directly attributed to the new facilities, 28 of which opened in the year under scrutiny. Drive-in cinemas, of which there are only 68 left in the country, reported an 11% drop from 1997-98.

Larger cinemas accounted for most of the profitability in the sector while smaller cinemas accounted for most of the losses. "Larger facilities attracted greater numbers of patrons, which translated into larger box office revenues. These theatres were also able to cut their expenses and operate more efficiently than the smaller ones," the report said.

The report also found that residents of the Western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia are the Canada's most avid filmgoers. On average, Albertans went to the movies five times and British Columbians four times in 1998-99 compared with the national average of 3.73 films per year. The Atlantic province of Newfoundland registered less than half the national average.