Cinema Expo ended on a high note last night (June 24)with a gala dinner hosted by Walden Media, and organisers claiming successdespite a slight drop in numbers.

The annualexhibition conference in Amsterdam saw 1,011 registrations, down about 80 fromlast year. Booths on the trade show floor were down about four or five, butorganisers see it as a blip.

'We'rereally comfortable,' the Sunshine Group's Mitch Neuhauser told'There were nearly 40 countries represented this year, and a lot of peopleknow that this is the place.'

An awardsceremony was attended by director Jean-Jacques Annaud (international directorof the year), producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen (producer of the year) BVI'sAnthony Marcoly and Stuart Salter (distributors of the year) and UCI/Cinesa'sJose Batlle (exhibitor of the year).

Thepresence of delegates from Russia and Eastern Europe certainly confirmed one ofthe week's themes -- the continued emergence of new markets. 'Russia was adeveloping market not so long ago,' said Monique Esclavissat, Warner Bros'senior vice president, theatrical sales, Europe, Middle East and Africa.'Now it's our tenth best-performing territory.'

Theimportance of the international market -- and Europe in particular -- was alsodriven home throughout the week. Warner Bros revealed that of their $1.63bninternational theatrical take in 2003, over $1bn (66%) came from Europe. FromJan 1 to June 7 this year, the company has already taken $1.2bninternationally, with $880m from Europe.

Anotherbig talking point was football: the Euro 2004 tournament is raging, Amsterdamis bedecked with orange bunting (the colour of the national team) andfootball-mad European delegates were eager to talk.

But notjust about scorecards or England's new superstar Wayne Rooney: under discussionwas the stiff competition cinemas face from sport and other media pastimes.

Someresearch from Nielsen EDI presented at the event looked at audience responsesacross the UK, Spain, France and Germany, and found that the UK is particularlysusceptible to box office drops during national games.

On Mondaynight's England vs Croatia game, for example, box office dropped to just over600,000 in the UK but was back at over a million on Tuesday night. Box officein Scotland, which does not have a national team playing in the tournament, waslargely unaffected by the England game on Monday night, Nielsen said.

Otherfactors around tournaments include the quality of the films on release, theweather, the performance of the national team, and the tournament time zones.'Cinema attendance drops at the beginning of tournaments because,logically, there are more games on,' said Henry Piney, managing director,Europe, Nielsen Interactive Entertainment. 'As the tournament goes on,there are less games and admissions recover.'

Organiserstried to accommodate the matches and Fox, which held a megabucks bash for DodgeBallon Tuesday night, also acquiesced: Two giant screens showed the football asbikini-clad dancing girls, Dutch muscle boys and soul singers entertained thedelegates with some real-life dodgeball playing.

Even MelGibson judged the mood perfectly when he delivered a video message to delegatesto thank them for their support on The Passion Of The Christ.

'Euro2004 is raging,' he said. 'I can't believe you can show so muchrestraint. What are you doing there' Get out and watch the match.'