Cinema admissions in Italy dropped a huge 22% compared to the same month in 2002, according to the latest figures from Cinetel, which surveys around 75% of screens in Italy.

The admissions set-back follows a 4.4% rise in cinema-going in the first quarter of 2003 compared to 2002. It also comes despite a 9.58% increase in the number of screens in the country.

According to Walter Vacchino, head of Italy's national exhibitors association ANEC, the fall-off in admissions is due to the poor distribution of cinemas across Italy, and to the fact that releases are still crammed into too short a window because the summer season still hasn't taken off.

But the main reason, Vacchino said, is that there wasn't a major box office hit that stood out from the crowd last month. 'That's what really makes the difference with the public at large,' he said.

He added: 'The situation right now is difficult both for traditional [single or two-screen] cinemas and for multiplexes too. ['] Italy needs to set out a new law to regulate the opening of cinemas and spread screens out more evenly across the country.

Vacchino also blamed rampant piracy for the October drop in cinema-going figures. 'All the members of the industry have to get do their best to fight piracy on the Internet and DVDs,' he said.