Kinowelt, Germany's fast-moving licensing and distribution conglomerate, is poised to become one of the country's leading exhibitors.

It is involved in exclusive talks with Village Roadshow to buy a majority stake in the eight German multiplexes owned by the Australian group.

Kinowelt was unable to confirm details about the size or value of its interest in the multiplexes, but a company spokesman confirmed to Screen International that talks are ongoing.

The group, which is seeking vertical integration of its film activities, has also moved into airline licensing, TV and ticketing and took its first serious step into exhibition in May this year when it bought a 50.1% stake in Thiele-Hoyts Kinepolis, Germany's fifth largest exhibition chain.

Village Roadshow's commitment to the German market has looked increasingly uncertain over the last year. The 74-screen circuit in Germany was previously a Warner Village partnership before Warner pulled out at the end of 1998. The depressed German box office over the last 12 months, combined with continued expansion of multiplexes in the country, has put pressure on all cinema operators and led to considerable consolidation within the market.

The German sale talks are mounting evidence of Village's nervousness about the international markets in the wake of international chief John Crawford's decision to quit in December (ScreenDaily, June 13). The company's UK headquarters will relocate to Melbourne, despite the recent addition of two senior executives, both hired from Australia in March this year. Village is expected to keep its current international partnerships intact, but expansion of its Village-branded network is likely to be cut short.