Hollywood films are set to lose hugepotential box office revenues in China this summer due to an officialseven-week 'blackout' slapped on foreign films in cinemas between mid-June andAugust.

Spiderman 2, Harry Potter 3 and Shrek2 will be pushed back to August release dates, after film executives hadpainstakingly negotiated prime-time summer release to coincide with thebeginning of China's school holidays.

In an officialnotice sent to the foreign studios and local cinema chains last Friday, theChina Film bureau said the ban was to reduce the amount of violence and sexthat youngsters were being exposed to.

The industry wasopenly speculating in the local press this week that the blackout was insteadaimed at protecting the local film industry. Films made in Hong Kong are nowconsidered officially as local films, and will not be affected by the ban.

But the timing ofthe ban, which studios have been warned will also apply during the National Dayweek-long holidays in October, makes it most likely that it has been imposed tocoincide with celebrations leading up to the 55th anniversary of the foundingof the People's Republic of China, on October 1st.

Important dates inChina's historical and political calendar have limited TV and cinema marketingefforts by the major studios in the past, but this blackout on film releases isapparently the first of its kind.

Pirate DVD copiesof Hollywood films are usually widely available on the streets of China's majorcities within days of the US release. Priced at around RMB8-10 (US$1) thesecopies are up to a thirtieth or fortieth of the cost of a cinema ticket, andremain the main way in which foreign films are seen by Chinese.