Piracy remains the 'biggest threat' to cinema exhibition. That was the message yesterday from Tim Richards, Chief Executive Officer Of Vue Entertainment.

Speaking at The Media Summit 2008, backed by Screen International, Richards expressed his dismay at the powerlessness of exhibitors to confront the pirates.

Under current legislation, Richards said, it was not possible for exhibitors to confiscate equipment or even to take film out of the cameras when they caught pirates red-handed. He described the situation as 'outrageous.'

The continuing problem of piracy aside, Richards was striking a robust note about prospects for UK cinema exhibition in the digital era.

Vue is currently experimenting with live transmission of sporting events and concerts and in staging gaming events.

The exhibitor has already shown live concerts by Genesis, Take That and Kylie Minogue, comedy shows, Grand Prix races and World Cup football matches

In response to customer requests, Vue plans to trial '18 Only' screenings of its movies at which no children will be allowed. Enhanced seating and 'speed' bars are among the other initiatives that the cinema chain has hatched in order to keep hold of customers.

Richards conceded that non-movie activities currently represent 'a very, very small' part of Vue's overall profts. 'Our business is movies,' he stated. Asked how he saw Vue evolving over the next five years, Richards stated that movies will remain at the heart of the company's activities. The exhibitor is continuing to expand aggressively, targeting 'under-served communities' that Richards believe still exist in the UK.

The Vue boss also insisted that 'windows' remain as important as ever, even as the business moves into the digital age. The link between box-office success and ancillary sales is still crucial.

Late last year, Vue opened its first full digital multiplex. This venue, in Hull, has no traditional film projection facilities at all. Richards predicted that digital projection technology will 'revolutionise our industry.' Vue currently has over 50 digital projectors in its circuit. The goal, Richards said, was 'to have a fully digitised circuit in the next two to three years.'

2007, Richards said, was a 'phenomenal' but 'rollercoaster' year for UK exhibitors.

The summer saw astonishing business, with over 50 million people going to the cinema over a three month period in the summer. Nonetheless, he suggested that the US Studios missed an opportunity by not staggering their releases more carefully.

'The movies all cannibalised each other. The movies needed more breathing space. If the studios had planned the movies out and phased them out a little bit more more, the box-office receipts could have been even larger.' Exhibitors were sometimes forced to pull movies off screen mid-run.

After a spectacular summer, the autumn saw a downturn. 'The fourth quarter in the UK was one of the worst quarters in approximately 15 years. All in all, we still had a fantastic year but it is frustrating - we can see the potential for it (2007) being better.'