Brit exhib Odeon, ABC to merge

Rank Group to sell exhib to Cinven for $480 mil

LONDON — Odeon Cinemas and ABC Cinemas, the U.K.’s two main town-center theater chains, are set to merge.

Cinven, the private equity fund that bought ABC from Virgin in 1996, is poised to buy Odeon from the Rank Group for around £300 million ($480 million).

Rank is expected to confirm Cinven as its preferred bidder later this week, ahead of rival offers from George Soros, Clear Channel and BC Partners.

Odeon is already the U.K.’s largest exhibitor, with 470 screens across 75 sites, including the U.K.’s flagship theater, the Odeon Leicester Square.

In recent years, Rank has invested to upgrade the chain by building multiplexes and refurbishing its traditional sites.

ABC’s 300 screens are mostly in old-fashioned town-center theaters.

Before the arrival of American-owned multiplexes a decade ago, the two chains held a virtual duopoly of the U.K. exhibition business, and such a merger would have been inconceivable. Even today, there may be controversy about one company taking such a grip over the town centers.

Rank is also understood to be in negotiations to sell its 50% stake in Universal Studios Florida to its partner Seagram. Analysts value the stake at around $700 million.

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