Despite Italy's 2007 box-office boom, the territory's national statistics institute identifies a decline in cinema-going. Sheri Jennings reports.

In 2007, Italian exhibitors have many reasons to be proud. First-quarter box-office returns are explosive: Italy is up 24% compared with 2006, and 40% of that figure is credited to national product.

So when Italy's national statistics institute (Istat) released a report at the end of April that concludes box office is in decline, Italy's exhibitor body Anec had a few things to clarify - and in doing so cast a revealing glance into the collection and interpretation of box-office data.

The territory has two means of tallying box-office intake: one is through Italy's authors' and editors' organisation, Siae, from which Istat takes its numbers; the other is through Cinetel, the national box-office compiler. 'The difference is that Siae covers 100% of the market but is slow,' says Anec president Paolo Protti. 'We use Cinetel, which currently covers almost 90% of the market and we work in real time. Istat is two years behind.'

Protti argues that Istat's conclusions are yesterday's news and based on figures from 2005, which was not a great box-office year for anyone.

Siae tallies all cinemas, even those that operate part-time, such as outdoor cinemas that open only during summer months. Cinetel's data comes from theatres operational for at least 180 days per year, and more importantly, their data is updated daily.

Cinetel's coverage increases each year (see table, below). In 2000, they covered 78% of the market. By 2005, Cinetel covered 89.5% of the market.

Clearly, as Protti warns, isolating data and waiting around for it to be made available, even if correct, creates the risk of misrepresenting market trends.

'It should be remembered that 2004 was exceptional and closed with more than 115 million tickets sold.' After all, 2004 saw the release of The Passion Of The Christ, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and Spider-Man 2, all of which earned more than $27.1m (EUR20m) each.

Protti continues: '2005 was less fortunate for global cinema, which was reflected in Italy by a drop in ticket sales to 105 million from 115 million in 2004.'

Istat's report, which looked at all forms of entertainment from television to museums to sporting events, deduced that in 2005 movie-going numbers dropped by 7.5%. However in May 2007, movie-going is booming in Italy: Spider-Man 3 earned the best ever opening in May since 2000, with a $3.5m (EUR2.6m) return on its first day.

And with a slew of summer films on the way including the day-and-date release of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix on July 13, exhibitors are optimistic.

Protti gives a glimpse of Italy's summer 2008: a major Pixar animation film will be released mid-August here, he says, despite the August 15 national holiday. He says: 'It's never happened before. This year, the ice is breaking.'

It is reassuring to note that somehow, even in their fiscal correctness, Istat understood from the 'aspects of daily life' report that trend-wise 'movie-going would continue to be Italians' preferred form of entertainment'.