A Qatari media company has acquired part of the UAE-based Grand Cinemas, which is embarking on a regional expansion plan worth up to US$50 million (Dh183.6m).
The government-owned Qatar Media Services (Q.media) has bought a stake in Gulf Film, which incorporates a film-distribution company and Grand Cinemas, the region's leading cinema chain.
Jean Ramia, the chief executive of Gulf Film, said Q.media had an option to boost its stake further.
"They have acquired majority shares in Gulf Film, with the option of expanding it," said Mr Ramia. "They have a stake in it and they have the option of taking this in full, depending on how things go."
Mr Ramia did not specify the value of the deal.
A representative of Q.media declined to comment, but the company said last year that it planned to open more than 50 "multiplex facilities" within three years.
Q.media also said last year that it had acquired a 60 per cent stake in Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Company for nearly 2 billion Qatari riyals (Dh2.01bn).
Grand Cinemas operates 158 cinema screens and is the biggest operator in the UAE.
The company recently lost some sites, including eight screens at the old Metropolitan Hotel in Dubai, which has been demolished. But Mr Ramia said the company planned to boost the number of screens to about 207 in two years.
Grand Cinemas is spending $10m building a cinema complex at the Pearl Doha development, which is due to open this year, Mr Ramia said. "The average project costs between $7m and $10m depending on the number of screens."
The cost and scale of the Grand Cinemas expansion could be even greater, with investment hitting $50m, Mr Ramia added.
"We're targeting strategic locations within shopping malls," he said. "I would say that, in two years' time, if I want to double my number of screens, the range would be $30m to $50m between now and 2015."
Part of this would be used to boost Grand Cinemas' presence in Abu Dhabi, he said.
Projects planned for the emirate include an eight-screen complex in the World Trade Center towers. Grand Cinemas plans a "dine-in" cinema concept in the planned Yas Marina Mall, and Mr Ramia said the company had secured a management contract for another cinema at the Deerfields development.
"I will have almost 70 per cent market share from the Abu Dhabi market within the next few years," he said.
John Chahine, the general manager of the UAE branch of the rival film distributor Italia Film, said the cinema business was growing in the UAE. "The numbers of admissions have been increasing."
Mr Chahine said there were 11 million cinema admissions in the UAE last year - up from 2 million in 2002. And the number of tickets sold is increasing this year, he said.
"So far, we are about 7 per cent more than last year. And we have a lot of upcoming blockbuster movies. There is Ice Age, Spider-Man and Batman … All these movies will do very well."
Mr Chahine said the expansion of Grand Cinemas was "logical", especially in Abu Dhabi, where he said there were few multiplexes.
"The cinemas over there are almost at full capacity at all times," he added.