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Vue points to a sale

Brit cinema chain buyout draws rivals

Vue Entertainment, the U.K.’s third-biggest cinema chain, is being positioned for a management buyout led by HBOS Bank.

The 56-site chain, which accounted for a fifth of U.K. ticket sales in 2005, is owned by U.S. private equity groups Legal & General Ventures, Boston Ventures and Clarity Partners. The three are reportedly ready to sell, and the sale has attracted the interest of rival chains.

Market leader Odeon, owned by private equity group Terra Firma, would have to throw a bone to anti-monopoly watchdog the Office of Fair Trading before it could acquire Vue. In the past, such mergers have been approved only if theaters are divested to preserve consumer choice in regional markets.

The interest in Vue demonstrates the continued health of the U.K. box office. Bucking the downward trend in major Euro territories, Brit B.O. rose slightly last year from 2004, and the boffo bow for “The Da Vinci Code” bodes well for this summer’s blockbuster season after the mild disappointment of “Mission: Impossible III.”

The Vue circuit has been expanding rapidly since its launch in May 2003. It was formed when the startup SBC chain acquired Warner Village. SBC was backed by Boston Ventures; the acquisition of Warner Village brought in Legal & General Ventures and Clarity Partners.

Vue’s steady expansion was boosted by the acquisition of Ster Century. Vue brass promise 20 theaters will be added to the chain by the end of 2008.

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