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Business

Movie Theaters Fight for Relevance

German film is grabbing the spotlight at this year's Berlinale. The country's movie theaters wish they would receive the same sort of attention in light of sagging visitor numbers.

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Finding ways to fill the rows

Were it not for the work of a teenage magician and Luke Skywalker, German movie theaters might be boarding up one after the other.


Harry Potter and the final installment of the "Star Wars" series brought 13 million Germans to movie theaters across the country in 2005, providing relief amid some miserable visitor numbers. Against increasing competition from home entertainment systems and pirated DVDs, the amount of German moviegoers dropped 18 percent last year. The highest drop in history meant a loss of 150 million euros ($178 million) to movie theaters.

"The type of films are surely a reason," for the drop, said Jan Oesterlin, from the agency Zukunft Kino Marketing. "But it's also because film pirating is doing a lot of damage."

Looking for new ways to fill rows


Last year, her agency began a controversial campaign against pirated films that ran in all German movie theaters. She said 11 million films were downloaded illegally last year, a "tough loss" for the film branch.

Raubkopierte DVDs

Pirated DVDs are hitting the theater industry hard

But pirated DVDs are not the only reason movie theaters are suffering. Amid increasing competition from home entertainment systems and the advent of high-definition television, many former moviegoers prefer the comforts of home to a taking a trip.

The fact has caused the theater industry to re-position itself in the past few years. Many theaters are finding alternate income streams hosting corporate business meetings, author readings or other events. Last year, a Robbie Williams concert in Berlin was broadcast live in four other theaters in Germany.


"Theaters are perfect for such things, because they have a certain size and logistical capacity," said Oesterlin.

Riding the wave of German movies

But movies remain the preferred bait to lure in visitors. German movies in recent years, especially, have proved successes at the box office. Serious films like "The Downfall" on Hitler's last days or "Goodbye Lenin" have also attracted attention internationally and set a future trend.

Bruno Ganz (Adolf Hitler)

"The Downfall" received worldwide acclaim


"What has gained more and more importance in recent years in Germany is the search for the past, for the history of its own identity," said Jo Groebel, director of the European Media Institute.

Maybe, in searching for their past, German movies might help secure the future of the country's movie theaters.

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