On-line game-playing, powered by ever faster networking technologies and a coming wave of titles based on popular entertainment properties culled from film and television, will soar to a $5bn annual business within four years across just the US and Western Europe.

The figure, which would equate to almost a quarter of the total global theatrical box office revenue estimated for 2003, comes from a Datamonitor report released in the same week late last year that saw separate deals to turn both Thunderbirds and the Disney sequel 102 Dalmations into game titles. The game developers in question, SCI Entertainment and Tomb Raider creator Eidos respectively, saw their share-prices rocket on the back of the plans.

The current industry worth of the on-line gaming business is valued at no more than $82m. However, the emergence of internet-connected game consoles such as Sega Dreamcast, already a million-selling product in the US, will lead to an explosion.

This year sees the arrival of Sony's PlayStation 2, another lightning fast machine that will not only play cinema-quality games and DVD titles but allow for Sony-commissioned digital movies from the likes of George Lucas to be downloaded from the Web and interacted with.

PlayStation 2, according to recent figures compiled by 'Screen Digest', will propel the installed based of DVD players beyond 117m units in Europe by that same year, 2003.