The western European exhibition sector may at last be starting to reach an even keel, according to a new report by film industry analyst Dodona Research.

While screen growth in the region is set to slow to a trickle over the next four years, cinema admissions will continue to rise apace, which means rising box office for exhibitors with healthy circuits.

The forthcoming Cinemagoing Western Europe report forecasts that admissions will grow by over 13% during the next four years, reaching 777.5 million in 2005. The report covers 11 territories - Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

This growth in admissions will not be hindered by the average ticket price remaining relatively static. And the reluctance of exhibitors to put pressure on the market by raising prices means that the cost of a cinema visit will rise by less than 2% over the next four years, reaching an average of $4.72 in 2005.

According to Dodona, this will push the gross box office in the 11 territories covered by the report up from $3.178bn in 2001 to a projected $3.672bn in 2005 - a hefty rise of 15.5%.

The prospect of admissions growth outstripping screen increase is evidence that European exhibition may finally be finding its feet again after the building binge in the late 1990s left the industry in danger of becoming screen-heavy. Generally, the region has so far escaped the closures and consolidation that has characterised the downturning US exhibition industry.

"The last couple of years has seen screens rising faster than audiences in some European territories," said Karsten-Peter Grummitt of Dodona. "That this seems to be leveling out promises to offer relief to some hard-pressed companies. But there is still an overhang of openings in some places."

The region currently has a population of around 302 million and around 21,000 screens, with each screen serving 14,381 people. The US, by contrast, has an estimated population of 276 million and approximately 37,000 screens, with 7,450 people for each screen.