Cinemaattendances plummeted in Italy by 18.05% in the first half of 2005 with a17.84% slump in box office, according to figures released by monitoring body,Cinetel.

A grim-lookinggroup of Italian operators met in the centre of Rome to reflect on the firsthalf of the business year and promote their films for coming months at theGiornate Professionali di Cinema (Professional Cinema Days).

Cultureminister, Rocco Buttiglione, summed up the collective gloom: "The figures arevery worrying."

Walter Vacchino,head of ANEC, Italy's national exhibitors association, says no one was preparedfor the drop in demand following what was all in all a satisfactory 2004.

Only March brokethe downward trend. Cinetel, which surveys 75% of the nation's screens, said boxoffice was up 9% on 2004. Top grossers that month included Italian film, ManualOf Love and Hitch which took $10,784,71 and $6,746,370 respectively at the boxoffice.

According toVacchino, it's not just a case of poor quality product at the beginning of theyear not being able to draw in the audience. He says the general economic slumpin Italy as a whole is keeping people away from screens.

Vacchino andother industry professionals cite the UK, which has an healthy economy comparedto Italy and a fairly robust box office in comparison, as a case in point.

They say otherfactors contributing to the dismal box office include piracy, pay-tv and thegrowing DVD market.

Buttiglionesuggested increased cultural support and tax shelters as an attempt to stop thedownward slide.