While Italy's box office figures slumped in mid-July as temperatures soared and millions of Italians hit the beaches, a deeper analysis reveals that the local industry's effort to establish a 12-month box office season has all the potential to be a success - as long as it is supported by substantial marketing.

Box office earnings did slump a huge 48% between July 19-21 compared to the previous weekend, but national entertainment body AGIS points out that figures are still up a massive 62% compared to the same period the in 2001.

While the comparison is slightly skewed by the lack of product during last summer, a look at admissions for the summer of two years ago reveals that 2002's takings increased 4% from the same weekend in 2000, when blockbuster Mission Impossible: 2 had only been on release for two weeks.

In a further sign of this year's overall upward trend, an extra 2.5 million tickets were punched between May 31 and July 21 of this year compared to the same period in 2001.

"There are also a large number of spectators who have been watching films in the hundreds of piazzas and outdoor events which are programmed during the summer across Italy, and these statistics aren't taken into account by Cinetel," said Agis communications director Luigi Filippi, calling this summer's results "very positive."

The Italian film industry has long been considering a year-round box office season, but until this year distributors systematically shied away from releasing any pictures at all between mid-May and early September, and exhibitors traditionally shut down their non-air conditioned cinemas.

This year, however, local distributors unanimously agreed to reverse the pattern, releasing 60 films on 1,500 screens between May 15 and July 31, including Resident Evil, Scooby-Doo and Lilo&Stich.

It now appears likely that if the government, distributors and exhibitors make a more concerted effort next year to launch a proper marketing campaign that promotes summer cinema-going in Italy - the industry will reap even more benefits from the new initiative.