Cinema analyst Dodona this week points to a growing split between the mature markets of the West and emerging markets.

It is an undeniable fact, if one allows for a little blurring about what constitutes emergence. The simplest dividing line between the two worlds is in screen capacity.

The markets of the West and the more developed Asian territories have reached a point where new build of screens is all but impossible. The big box-office growth in the 1990s was largely the result of the renovation of the theatrical infrastructure through multiplexes, but most markets have reached a natural saturation point, or at least the point where construction of theatres has stopped being profitable.

The resultant limitation in screen space means overall rates of growth are small. A couple of flops or a few successes are the difference between a good year on paper and a bad one.

Some of the optimistic views of growth in box-office revenues have also been based on a very big distortion because of the dollar exchange rate. In Europe, for example, over the last five years, increases look much more impressive in dollars than in local currencies.

Meanwhile, less developed markets are building at pace and are able to boast impressive rates of growth. The future of box-office expansion then depends on how one can deal with capacity.

Squeezing more from screens

Dodona managing director Karsten-Peter Grummitt suggests that "in the West, the perception is increasingly that cinema is a technology story, with profits growth only likely to come from digital cinema and 3D within an essentially mature market.

"But it's still also an emerging markets story, with significant gains being made in regions such as eastern Europe and parts of Asia."

In both cases, that is true in broad-brush terms. In the absence of new build of screens in the West, much store is put on squeezing more out of existing screens through efficient digital distribution.

Equally, the studios are putting hope in the potential of spectacular advances in technology such as 3D. The studio's best bet for substantial increases in profits in developed markets comes from the idea the customer might pay more to see a grand spectacle (and, of course, such fare is more difficult to pirate effectively).

Dodona expects the introduction of 3D technology to give some impetus to the market, with the result that by 2012 admissions are expected to have risen 6.8% to almost 8 billion.

New territories

The key to that future is a marriage between technology and compelling content, and both seem to be falling into place. Disney is confident enough about the future of the technology to be making all of its feature animations in 3D over the next five years.

If technology is driving the mature markets, it is new screens that are driving growth elsewhere.

The difference between good years and bad years in developed markets tends to be measured in low percentage points. By contrast, the emerging markets are reporting the kind of growth that takes one back to the boom years in the West. Dodona sees big leaps in territories such as the United Arab Emirates (33%), Malaysia (31%) and Romania (27%).

These numbers have to be taken in context. Countries such as Romania start from a very low base, due to the collapse of infrastructure during the post-Communist years. Dodona points out the building of one complex in Estonia can boost the market by 29%.

The emergence of China and Russia as major cinema-going territories is much more significant. Already both markets are steadily increasing the amount of films released each week. Paramount's Kung Fu Panda played on 821 screens in Russia from June 5-8, taking a robust $8.3m in the territory. Meanwhile, The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian took $3.9m in China from June 2-8.

Dodona sees substantial rises over the next five years in both China (108%) and Russia (31%).