Purchase will make company top chain in Italy

ROME — Silvio Berlusconi’s Medusa Cinema is poised to become Italy’s largest exhibitor by acquiring the country’s Warner Village Cinemas loop in a long-gestating deal now close to being finalized.

Medusa’s purchase of the Warner Village Italian multiplex circuit is being negotiated in tandem with Italo investment firm 21 Investimenti, owned by clothesmaker Benetton, according to financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

The Berlusconi-Benetton joint venture is being structured as a 50-50 partnership.

There was no immediate comment from Medusa on Friday.

The Warner Village sale, expected to be inked in two weeks, will mark the end of Warner Bros.’ exhibition biz in Europe.

Medusa, which is a unit of top Italo commercial broadcaster Mediaset, is Italy’s top film production and distribution company and already among the country’s top exhibitors.

The new Berlusconi-Benetton entity will merge Warner Village’s roughly 150 screens with the existing Medusa loop to create a more than 250 screen multiplex circuit in 25 venues, most of which situated in Italo shopping malls. It will be the leading Italian loop, which will give Medusa greater leverage with the Hollywood majors. More multiplex acquisitions are now deemed a distinct possibility.

Multiplexes account for 54% of Italy’s exhibition biz.

Italy’s current exhibition market leader is UCI, which has more than 200 screens in 23 hardtops.

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