Profits up for Oz exhib

Half-year figs to Dec. up 32.4%

SYDNEY — Now active in 15 of its targeted 20 countries, Australian-based exhibition powerhouse Village Roadshow Ltd. boosted interim net profit in the half year to December by 32.4% to $A34.5 million ($23.4 million) on sales of $147.5 million.

The results reflect strong growth in the cinema and radio divisions, partly offset by a small decline in theme park revenues, VRL chairman Robert Kirby said Thursday. The group’s total assets rose by 21% to $1.2 billion.

The company expects to open a further 68 screens by this June after adding 143, which will push its worldwide circuit to more than 1,000.

Kirby stressed that VRL’s exposure to Asia is minor, with less than 6% of the group’s assets invested in the region, contributing less than 1% of the total operating profit.

Despite the Asian financial crisis, ticket sales have increased at the company’s cinemas in Thailand and Malaysia, and VRL is poised to open its first cinema in South Korea in the next few months. “Opportunity now exists to take advantage of the weakened property sector in those countries, and over the medium term, the region remains highly attractive,” he said.

Noting the debut of its first three multiplexes in Italy, where VRL is aiming for a total of more than 200 screens in league with Warner Bros. and a local partner, Kirby said he is convinced new cinemas will “turn around this market.”

VRL announced Friday it has appointed Joel Pearlman as head of Village Roadshow Pictures’ Australian unit, responsible for acquiring local product for both Australian distribution and for VRP’s foreign sales arm. Those chores were previously handled by Alan Finney, who is moving to Disney as managing director of Buena Vista Intl.’s distribution banner in Australia and New Zealand.

Pearlman, who joined VRL in 1994, continues as marketing and sales manager of Roadshow Film Distributors.

Managing director Graham Burke confirmed VRP has acquired worldwide rights to “Occasional Coarse Language,” the first feature from Sydney writer-director Brad Hayward, and entered a first-look arrangement for his next two projects.

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