No word yet about circuit's future owner

OSLO — Controlling up to 30% of the theatrical market in Norway, Oslo Municipal Cinemas (OMC) is the jewel of the crown in Norwegian exhibition. The country’s largest circuit programs 31 screens in the capital. A monopoly since 1926, it will be partly privatized before the end of the year.

Signed to handle the sale of a 66% stake in the company, Oslo’s Bahr Solicitors were expected to announce the names of the bidders earlier this month, but there is no word yet about the future owner.

Observers think it is proving more difficult than expected to find the right buyer. “The OMC might be the jewel in the crown, but it could also prove a pig in a poke,” one said. “Nobody knows what they are getting — except a lot of problems. And they could easily be bought too expensively.”

According to the City Council decision, three of the OMC cinemas — the Filmteatret, Symre and Frogner — will be advertised for sale. The Colosseum and Eldorado will remain municipal property.

The new owner will have to rent the entire circuit, as well as take over existing contracts — for concession sales, etc. — and a staff of 160, which is considered too much for profitable business.

“Thirty-one screens in Oslo are far too few. Our films are queuing up, major releases are getting too little space and minor titles are sometimes not even programmed,” says Liv Jacobsen, CEO of the Norwegian Distributors Assn.

“We could easily supply another couple of multiplexes within city limits. But after 77 years of monopoly, we do not want the OMC to be the sole player in the market, and also run the new cinema in Oslo West. We are ready for a situation of competition, to benefit both,” Jacobsen continues. Last year the OMC made a $140,000 profit, from a $28.7 million turnover. It sold 2.8 million tickets, down slightly from 2001. But in the first two months of 2003, admissions have been up almost 20%.

Potential buyers include Sandrew Metronome, which has theaters in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and Norway’s Kino 1, which runs the Sandvika multiplex outside Oslo.

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