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Toho expands with Virgin screens

Co. acquires Japanese venues for $83 mil

TOKYO — Toho, Japan’s largest distributor, announced a deal on Tuesday which will radically reshape the local distribution and exhibition landscape.

Toho has reached a basic agreement with the Virgin Group of the UK on acquiring all shares of Virgin Cinemas Japan. The purchase is to be completed by the end of March for an estimated price tag of 10 billion yen ($83 million). The name of the new company will be announced later.

With the takeover of the eight Virgin Cinema multiplexes which generate a bit over 10 billion yen in annual revenue, Toho will expand the number of cinemas under its control from currently 284 to 365, making it the industry leader ahead of Warner Mycal Corp. which holds 337 screens. Suburban properties of Virgin will be run under the Toho name while some urban multiplexes will retain the Virgin brand.

During the current year, Virgin Cinemas Japan will open another two cineplexes with a total of 18 screens, while Toho is slated to open another multiplex in northern Sapporo late in 2003. At the end of the year, Toho’s screens will number 395.

While Toho will be the absolute ruler in the distribution and exhibition field, Virgin will redirect its focus in Japan on mobile phone and fitness club ventures.

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