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Exhibs hope stix shift kicks Big Six rent fix

10 multiplexes planned, with more than 120 screens

BANGKOK — Thailand’s three major Bangkok-based chains are fast expanding into provincial areas, challenging the six dominant regional distributors-exhibitors.

As a result, the flat-sales system, where U.S. and local distribs sell their films to the provinces for roughly $200,000 per blockbuster and no share of the B.O., eventually could be scrapped in favor of conventional distrib deals.

Provincial operators have formed the Regional Film Distributors Assn. Members plan to build 10 multiplexes, adding more than 120 screens.

With Bangkok fully screened, the Major Cineplex Group, EGV and SF Cinema are building cinemas outside the capital, where there are only 300 screens, mostly single sites in poor condition.

Major Cineplex invested $5 million to construct one multiplex in Chiang Mai and another in Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand. It will open a seven-screener in the northeastern town Udon Thani later this year.

SF Cinema is planning its first provincial theater in the southern tourist area of Phuket, due to bow in the second quarter of 2004.

Rachot Dhiraputra, country manager of Columbia TriStar/Buena Vista Films Thailand, welcomes the prospect of a change to the traditional flat-fee deals, but can’t predict when that may happen.

“The end of flat-sales deals can be achieved only by Thai film producers taking the lead, since domestic productions are more popular than foreign films in provincial areas.”

Most foreign films generate about 85% of their gross in Bangkok and Chiang Mai — where ticket sales are shared between cinema operators and distribs — and 15% from flat-sale deals with provincial distribs.