The fastest growing European cinema market in 2002 was Estonia, according to a new report from analysts Dodona Research.

The report, Cinemagoing Europe, which covers the market in 28 countries, says that 1.03bn Europeans visited cinemas in 2002, 6.5m more than in the previous year.

While most markets continued to show growth or at least matched the previous year, disappointing performances in two big markets, Germany (down 14m or 8%) and Spain (down 6m or 4%), dragged down the overall total.

The best performing larger market was the United Kingdom, where admissions were almost 20m or 12.5% higher.

The keenest cinema-goers in the continent in 2002 were the Icelanders, averaging 5.55 visits each, and the Irish (4.42 visits), while the Latvians were the only nation not to average at least a half a visit each (0.46).

Despite strong admissions in the last two years, 2002 saw the anticipated drop in new multiplex openings. After five years in which the European screen count expanded by 1,000 a year, just 635 screens were added in 2002.

Dodona ascribes the slowdown in investment to the plateau in admissions between 1998 and 2000, with the effects taking time to feed through due to the long lead times involved in multiplex construction.

On average European cinema-goers paid Euros 5.73 per ticket in 2002, exactly Euros 1.00 more than in 1997. The highest ticket price was in Switzerland, where cinema-goers paid an average of Euros 9.49, while the lowest price was found in Slovakia, at just Euros 1.88.

More than 20% of the continent's box office was generated in the United Kingdom, where cinema-goers paid a total of Euros 1.2 billion to see films. France was the only other Euros 1.0 billion market.

As well as taking Euros 5.6 billion gross at the box office, European cinemas obtained significant revenues from such sources as refreshment sales (worth Euros 1.2 billion net of taxes) and on-screen advertising (estimated to be worth Euros 526 million to cinema exhibitors).

Exhibitors' total net revenues amounted to Euros 6.9 billion, 70% more than in 1996. The United Kingdom remains the largest market on this measure, though the lack of enthusiasm of the French for snacking in cinemas means Germany overtakes France to become the second largest market overall.

In danger of becoming the fattest as well as keenest cinema-goers in Europe, Icelanders spend a massive Euros 3.01 at the concession stand each time they visit the cinema, easily beating the second-highest spending country, the United Kingdom, at Euros 1.99 per head.

Excluding the generally low-spending markets of Central Europe, most Western European cinema-goers spend at least Euros 1.00 on coke and popcorn, though average spending is less than this in Italy, Portugal and Sweden.

Film distributors' revenues amounted to Euros 2.3bn, or 64% more than in 1996. The average proportion of box office paid as film rental remained constant at 45%. The outperformance in exhibition revenue growth instead came from higher concession (or refreshment) revenues due to heavy investment in this area in new cinemas, and from higher advertising revenues. Rental rates vary from the straight 50% split found in France and the Czech Republic, for example, down to 36% in Slovenia and just 33% in Greece.

Although the European industry is becoming more concentrated, the sector remains highly fragmented. The report identifies 53 circuits across Europe operating 50 screens or more, but they account for only 36% of screens. According to Dodona's Karsten-Peter Grummitt: "at the level of box office, concentration is much more marked because there are a lot of part-time and small-town cinemas among the 19,000 screens not owned by circuits, but there are still a surprising number of small independent cinemas, often doing a good job for their customers".

Despite the dominance of the Hollywood studios in making movies, showing them is still largely a European-owned business: of the top ten circuits three each are headquartered in France and the UK, two in Germany, one in Belgium and just one, UCI, in the United States. And with the recent wave of ownership changes in the industry apparently not over, "You have to say this remains a fluid situation," says Grummitt.

There is plenty to play for. According to forecasts in the Dodona report, European box office will be 24% higher by 2007, nearly Euros 1.5bn more than today.