Amid talk of the Spanish exhibition industry growing too big for the market to sustain, a new, and unexpected, player has entered the highly competitive sector. Premiere Megaplex, a 50-50 joint venture between broadcaster Telecinco and distributor Tri Pictures, is set to unveil its first multiplex next week.

An 8-screen complex with seating for 1,500, Premiere Megaplex Salamanca is the first in a line of theaters to be developed by Premiere over the next five years. Two more multiplexes of around the same size are currently under construction.

The last few years have seen a frenzy of investment in Spain as operators have sought to capitalise on strong market conditions, both in cinema-going as well as leisure property development.

At the end of 2000, Spain boasted 1,305 theaters and 3,505 screens, a growth of 162 screens over the previous year or an average of almost one new screen every two days. While that growth may seem impressive, it represented more than a 50% drop-off in the growth rate of the previous year: between December 1998 and December 1999, 346 new screens opened.

This has led many observers to note that the increase in screens is far outstripping the rise in admissions. In other territories, like the UK, where this is also the case, companies are currently either scaling back their development plans or, as in the case of Cinemark and Ster Century withdrawing from the market completely.

All of the major multinational exhibitors are present in Spain, and many local exhibitors have chosen to partner with a multinational to grow their businesses and remain competitive. Independent Spanish operators such as Lauren Films and arthouse indies like Alta Films have also entered the multiplex business. The presence of heavyweights like Warner Lusomundo, UCI-Cinesa and more recently the Belgian Kinepolis Group, make Spain a particularly competitive territory.

Broadcaster Telecinco entered the all-rights acquisition market last year through a 10-year pact with US indie producer Joseph Singer. The broadcaster then signed a landmark distribution accord with Buena Vista International Spain (BVIS) whereby BVIS provides theatrical and video outlets for Telecinco's independently acquired films.

Tri Pictures is a commercially-oriented independent distributor. Recent acquisitions at the American Film Market include Timeline, Changing Lanes, The I Inside, City Of Ghosts and Igby Goes Down.