UK exhibitors anticipate a record-breaking performance this year, but still await digital rollout, writes Diana Lodderhose.

The UK box office has seen a healthy start to the year, with takings up 7% in the first five months compared to the same period in 2006, generating $661.9m (£332.1m).

February and March were the strongest months, up 14% and 28% respectively year-on-year, carried by the success of Hot Fuzz, Mr Bean's Holiday and 300. January was up 6%, thanks to Charlotte's Web, Night At The Museum and the residual effects of Casino Royale and Miss Potter. April has been the most disappointing, falling 30% year-on-year, while May dipped slightly by 3%.

Admissions for the first quarter were up 6.2% to 39 million, a positive sign after consecutive drops in admissions over the past two years. And exhibitors remain optimistic, with a spate of major releases to come including Transformers, The Simpsons Movie and Bollywood flick Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, which look set to make this a record-breaking year.

In recent years, a wave of consolidation has seen three major exhibitors - Odeon, Cineworld and Vue - dominate the UK exhibition market, taking a collective market share of 61%. But the UK is not saturated by cinemas, and exhibitors are constantly looking to expand. Vue Cinemas will manage the 11-screen cinema in London's 02 Centre (formerly the Millennium Dome).

The UK has the largest digital screen network in Europe but it still represents no more than 5% of all screens. Vue Cinemas COO Steve Knibbs says: 'To go digital is a huge investment. So until a deal is reached with studios, we're not looking to expand just yet.'