Bond on a mission to bring back Cineworld audiences

JAMES Bond is expected to do more than save the world this year as the UK’s largest cinema operator looks to the secret agent’s latest adventure to boost waning audiences.

Cineworld saw box office admissions drop 0.8 per cent in the 26 weeks to June 28, although revenues held up as the group increased average ticket prices by 5 per cent to £5.15.

The group, which has 811 screens at 79 cinemas, including five in Yorkshire, said it was in line to meet full year expectations due to a strong second-half film line-up including the latest Bond film Skyfall, The Hobbit and the final instalment of the vampire romance Twilight series.

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Cineworld chief executive Stephen Wiener said: “The timing of these releases means that trade is expected to be strongest in the last two months of the year.”

The company – based in Chiswick, west London – said total revenues were 1.1 per cent higher at £165.4m in the half year, while operating profits increased by 21.5 per cent to £15.8m.

Wayne Brown, analyst at Cannacord Genuity, said: “These results are encouraging, as the first half of the year was up against tough comparatives and set against a period containing global sporting events and a weaker film slate when compared to last year.”

Cineworld said the start of the second half – including the Olympics period – had performed in line with expectations with key titles including The Amazing Spiderman, Ice Age 4 and the final Batman instalment The Dark Knight Rises.

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Box office revenues were spread across a number of films in the first-half, with the top 10 highest grossing films accounting for roughly 40 per cent of Cineworld’s total box office, according to Cineworld.

Comic-book adventure Avengers Assemble, which grossed more than £51m in the UK, was a stand-out performer and was supported by good showings from Men in Black 3, The Hunger Games and science-fiction thriller Prometheus, the prequel to Alien.

The group said the performance of 3D films has been “stabilising” over the last year with 15 3D film releases during the first half, compared with 17 last year, representing around 15 per cent of Cineworld’s admissions, a little lower than the 17 per cent in 2011.

There have been worrying signs that the 3D boom may already be over after the British Film Institute released a survey showing 3D takings were down despite a doubling in the number of films in this format.

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It was hoped that the 3D format would spark a new era for cinema operators, which charge extra for the required glasses and in some cases more for a ticket.

Cineworld said film studios were becoming “increasingly adept” in discerning the genre and target audience of 3D films, but added: “The quality of 3D film product remains absolutely critical.” Retail revenue – such as refreshments and snacks – was 2.1 per cent lower than the previous year, with the average spend per person dipping to £1.65 during the half year due to the tough consumer spending climate.

Shares in Cineworld have risen 30 per cent over the past year, but were broadly flat after yesterday’s results.

Mr Wiener said: “We are pleased to announce solid first half results both in revenue and EBITDA growth.

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“Once again our results show that cinema is a resilient investment in challenging economic times.”

He added: “The current trading performance, together with a reduction in net debt, means that the group remains in a sound financial position to fund continued growth.

“The strength of the film line-up in the second half, coupled with our solid first half performance, underpins our confidence in delivering growth in line with market expectations for the full year.”

Cineworld has cinemas at Bradford, Castleford, Hull, Sheffield and Wakefield.

Shares closed last night at XXX