Mexico's largest exhibitor Organizacion Ramirez is fast moving towards its 1000-screen objective by the end of 2002. This week alone the company is to launch a 20-screen multiplex in Mexico City and another 18-screen site in Monterrey.

"We're targeting a growth ratio of at least 100 screens per year," said Miguel Mier, Ramirez' Chief Operating Officer. It currently operates 808 screens in this territory of nearly 100 million inhabitants. This year, the family-owned circuit has opened 60 new screens to date and has up to 67 additional screens scheduled to open by the end of December 2001.

Ramirez, which operates cinema chains under the brands Cinepolis, Multicinemas, Gemelos (Twins) and Cinemas, enjoys a 45% share of the national market and 30% in Mexico City. Its rivals include Mexico City circuit, Cinemex and Texas-based Cinemark International.

In addition, the giant circuit is expanding into Central America, starting with an eight-plex in Guatemala 18 months ago. It aims to open 19 screens in Panama and another 14 in Guatemala in 2003.

"An economic slowdown in Mexico will probably affect our growth plans," said Mier. "As the saying goes, when the U.S. catches a cold, the rest of the world sneezes," he added, in reference to the current economic downturn in the U.S.

With nearly 3,000 screens, Mexico boasts the largest screen count in Latin America. Despite the capital's size (pop. 22 million), exhibition in some parts are in danger of reaching saturation point especially in the middle and high income neighborhoods. "Low income neighborhoods are generally under-screened but we lower our ticket prices by 15% in these areas," said Mier.

Meanwhile, Spanish multimedia conglom Grupo Prisa has acquired 50% of Mexican radio company Radiopolis from Mexican media giant Televisa for $50m. Prisa will additionally invest another $10m in a capital amplification of Radiopolis, a group which houses a network of 17 different radio stations across Mexico.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Green