The 2.2% year-on-year drop in Spanish box office for 2006 has split opinion about cinema's health. Admissions were down to 124 million, from 126 million, while ticket sales rose slightly to $839m (EUR648m) thanks to higher prices.

According to Nielsen EDI, which compiled the figures, it was a reasonably strong year. "The reality is that it was a good year for Spain," says Arturo Guillen of the company's Madrid office. "This is a mature market and as long as the box office stays within the $780m (EUR600m) range, it is good."

But many in the local market see bigger structural problems. "The market is not doing well," says arthouse distributor-exhibitor Enrique Gonzalez Macho of Alta Films. "The figures are around the same as last year which is bad news because they were down last year."

The graph opposite suggests revenues are at their lowest level since 1988 and well down on the 143.9 million admissions in 2004. Yet there were 10% more films premiered in Spain last year.

Macho shares the view of many in the industry that piracy has been the killer factor. Last year, video-rental giant Blockbuster pulled out of Spain, citing rampant copyright theft as the major reason.

Spanish Video Union (UVE) statistics show a piracy index rise from 5% to 60% in the last three years. "Spain is the most pirated country in Europe," says UVE president Jose Manuel Tourne. "The Spanish government has reacted desperately slowly to the problem."

The good news is that the Spanish are making local films that people want to see. Both Viggo Mortensen-starrer Alatriste, ($21.6m gross), and Pedro Almodovar's Volver ($12.95m) were in the top-10 films in the country last year. The bad news is that tackling piracy will be a long-term struggle.