Beleaguered cinema exhibitors, increasingly concerned about the growth potential in overcrowded Western markets, could benefit by expanding into the world's nascent cinema markets such as Africa and the Middle East.

Cinemagoing Africa Middle East, a new report from film industry analysts Dodona Research, predicts that while screen count in many of the region's territories is low, admissions in the six most developed cinema markets will rise 40% by 2005 - reaching 127m.

Currently, almost all of the multiplexes in Africa and the Middle East are concentrated in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and South Africa.

"The next, modernising phase of the cinema market in the region has, with the exception of a handful of countries, barely begun," says Dodona's Karsten-Peter Grummitt.

The report goes on to predict fast growth in the under-screened Egyptian, Turkish and Lebanese markets, and suggests that some attendance growth could start to return to South Africa over the next two years. Audience levels in the country have fallen drastically because of political and economic instability - from 30m admissions in 1995 to 21m last year. There are also smaller scale opportunities to introduce modern cinemas in the capitals and major cities of many African countries.

The company with the largest presence in the region - and one of the few operating across borders - is South African company Ster Kinekor, with sites in South Africa, Zimbabwe and others under construction across the Middle East.

Says the report: "Unlike the cinema industries of the developed world, where mainstream markets at least, are becoming increasingly dominated by corporations, the markets of Africa and the Middle East still hold plenty of scope for the individual entrepreneur."