BANGKOK — In a sign of confidence in the virtually untapped potential of the Chinese exhibition market, Hong Kong-based CinemaWorks has unveiled plans to build eight multiplexes on the mainland.
CinemaWorks has formed a joint venture with the Jiangsu Film Co., and its first project, an eight-screener in Nanjing ( 210 miles north of Shanghai), is slated to open in May.
CinemaWorks principal Ian Riches, who will be president of the as-yet unnamed co-venture, is an English-born veteran exhib who worked most recently for Loews Intl.
Riches told Daily Variety that he is closing a deal to bring in a foreign investor, an as-yet-unnamed Euro-based exhib.
CinemaWorks will take a small equity stake; the Euro investor will take up the balance of the shares with a combined total of 49% of the joint venture — the present cap on foreign investment in Chinese cinemas.
Interviewed at the CineAsia convention, Riches said the investment to outfit and equip the eight plexes — all located in new malls — would be $25 million. Another site in Jiangsu is planned, and others will be located in Wuhan and Guangzhou.
This cinema-building program is the biggest undertaken by any company in China thus far.
Kodak, Warners in play
Other foreigners with exhib interests on the mainland include Kodak, Warner Bros. and two Hong Kong-based players, Golden Harvest and Lark. China has an unofficial quota limiting the number of imports allowed each year under the revenue-sharing scheme to 20.
Riches allows that “product availability is a problem, but we see the flow of imports improving in time and we will do the best we can with local and Hollywood films.”