Japanese chain to rent out theaters

Warner Mycal seeks to fill theaters at slow times

TOKYO

Warner Mycal, Japan’s second largest exhibition chain, will launch a theater rental service on Thursday.

The plan is to use the venues for academic conferences, business seminars and shareholder meetings during slow hours, as is done in the U.S.

The box office in Japan fell 17% to $2.3 billion in 2011, leaving many operators struggling to survive. A growing number are turning to live sports, music concerts and other non-pic content to bring in paying customers, but Warner Mycal’s rental service represents a farther shift away from the exhibition norm in Japan.

Prospective renters will have to reserve at least three weeks in advance and pay about $442 per screen. The company expects the number of rental contracts to total 1,500 annually after the service’s third year. The chain operates 496 screens at 60 sites.

Founded in 1991 and now a 50-50 joint venture of Time Warner Group and Aeon Retailing, Warner Mycal was a pioneer in Japan’s multiplex business.

Despite the Warner label it screens pics by all the Hollywood majors as well as domestic producers.

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