Box office gross in Western Europe is predicted to surge by 17% over the next five years largely due to advancements in digital cinema and expanding local film industries, new research predicts.

According to a report from Dodona Research, box office in the Western European market - which includes 13 countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland - will reach $6.4bn (Euros 4.7bn) by 2011 with Greece, the Netherlands and Spain seeing the fastest growth. Germany, Belgium and Malta will see steadier growth.

The industry analyst firm found that admissions in the region have fallen nearly 10% since 2001, a year when the first instalments of both the Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter franchises were released. Germany is down 23% compared to 2001 while Spain records a 17% decline to the same year.

Further increases in box office numbers in the region in recent years are largely attributable to rises in ticket prices. And the report found that exhibition Western Europe is essentially saturated and can no longer be expanded by building new cinemas.

'That is not to say that there is no call for some new screens in selected locations and ongoing upgrading is always necessarily, ' says report author, Karsten Grummitt. 'However there will be new drivers of growth including conversion to digital cinema and the expansion of domestic film industries, which will take the industry into the next phase of its evolution.'

Belgian company Kinepolis Group and Luxembourg-based Utopia Group are spearheading European digital cinema. Kinepolis operates 27% of all cinema screens in Belgium and also has cinemas in France, Spain and Switzerland. Utopia Group operates in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France.

Local film industries are expected to benefit from increased market segmentation and programming flexibility from future digital cinemas, particularly France which already boasts 3 admissions per head a year.

In the past year, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland have seen considerable consolidation. After acquisitions in Italy, UCI is now the largest exhibitor in Western Europe with almost 900 screens. EuroPalaces has 800 screens in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland while Greater Union and UGC both have over 500 screens. Cinebox's acquisition of Cines Abaco now brings it to 478 screens.

'Financial and economic conditions permitting, we anticipate that there are more deals to be done resulting in an increasingly simpler exhibition sector,' said Grummit.