The Italian exhibitor association Anec has said that 254 cinemas have closed in Italy since 2003, shutting down 306 screens.

The Northern Lombard region sustained the most losses at 58 screens. Emiglia-Romagna and Tuscany followed.

Traditional downtown cinemas in Florence, Milan, Rome, Naples and Bologna sustained the most closures, but Anec says that many multi-screen (five screens or more in one location) and multiplexes (eight screens or more) were affected as well.

In the case of Lombard region - an over saturation of screens has forced two multiplexes to close. The 15 Screen Magic Movie Park and Cinema Europlex Como 9 - both near Milan, have shuttered.

As for downtown cinemas, Vice President of art house cinemas association Domenico Di Noia told that some downtown Milanese cinemas have shut because the property value was too high.

'Cinema Astra was one of the most beautiful cinemas in Milan with 1,000 seats and marble floors.' The Astra was converted into fashion shop Zara.

'For those theaters, cinema doesn't make sense as a 'business' anymore,' he said citing another, which became a Dolce & Gabbana showroom.

Paolo Protti, President of ANEC, said:'Most traditional cinemas have either modernized or shut down, of course,' he says. He said that Italy currently has about 180 multiplexes for a total of 1,123 screens.

Multi-screen and multiplex structures account for 85% of annual ticket sales.

Additionally, it seems closures have nothing to do with a digital conversion: Italy has only 37 digital theaters.

Elisabetta Brunella, general secretary of Media Salles - a EU Media programme that gathers data on theatrical circulation, said: 'In Italy, digital is still a phenomenon that is restricted to certain pioneers who believe in digital cinema. Cinemas that are digitally equipped have been a result of (each exhibitor's) own investment.'

She says it costs $107,400 (E70,000) for the digital projector and server per screen.

Most here say digital growth is hard to project until Italian exhibitors and distributors come to an agreement for financing the transformation, or a third party comes in (as in the UK where digital concentration is the highest in Europe thanks in part to lottery funds).

And, while some cinemas have closed here, the number of screens has actually increased. Anec confirms screens increased from 3,628 in 2003 to 3,925 in 2006. (Data for 2007 was not available).