Media Salles, the European Union-financed exhibition research and support operation, has called into question the widespread assumption that multiplex growth in Europe is responsible for the growth in admissions seen over the last ten years.

'There appears to be a rather weak relationship between the two,' said Joachim Wolff, president of the Union International des Cinemas (UNIC), at a conference organised by Media Salles in Berlin.

Discussing one of the first concrete attempts to mathematically test the link, Wolff presented data showing admissions growth and multiplex development from 1988 to 1998 and discovered there to be a correlation of only 0.41 between them.

Controversially, however, Wolff suggested that total screen numbers have a greater impact on audiences than the fact that they are in multiplexes (a concept which Media Salles defines as a complex with eight screens or more). Over the same ten-year period the correlation was 0.64. 'There is a much stronger causal relationship between screen numbers and audiences,' said Wolff. 'The UK, which was a cinema desert in 1988, could have experienced the same growth in audiences if it had built smaller, modern complexes.'

Those countries with the closest correlation between multiplex numbers and admissions were France, Germany and Ireland. In UK and Spain multiplex building had greatly outstripped the growth in audiences. At the opposite extreme, Portugal had seen admissions growth greatly exceed infrastructure changes.

At the same meeting called to unveil the 2000 edition of the Media Salles Yearbook, MEDIA Programme chief Jacques Delmoly said he hopes to strengthen the role of Media Salles' research and for Media Salles to increase its links with the Strasbourg-based European Audiovisual Observatory. He said that he expects the European Union to become a full member of the EAO by the end of the year.