The South Korean exhibition industry looks to be stepping up its rate of growth, with U.S.-based Loews Cineplex announcing an additional $21m investment in Megabox Cineplex.

With ambitious plans for expansion both among independent exhibitors and the nation's four major cinema circuits, some industry figures predict a further 700 screens to be added to the nationwide total of 850 by the end of 2004.

The $21m provided by Loews will provide a hefty boost to Megabox Cineplex, which currently ranks third among the nation's theatre chains with 42 screens. Originally launched as a 50:50 joint venture between Loews and a subsidiary of Tongyang Confectionary in 2000, Loews had seen its share of the company shrink to 22.5% under additional investment by Tongyang. Its recent expenditure brings its share in the company back up to 50%.

Meanwhile, market leader CGV, a joint venture between Korea's CJ Entertainment and Village Roadshow, announced the opening of its 11th venue in Mokdong, Seoul on August 30. CGV currently operates 92 screens, accounting for 11% of the nation's total, and intends to open an additional 80 screens by the end of 2004.

Lotte Cinema, which has built 53 screens into its chain of luxury department stores, also plans an aggressive expansion in the coming year, with a total 140 screens envisioned by the end of next year.

All this comes only weeks after the debut of Primus Cinema, launched last month with an initial investment of $19m (Won23bn). The company, jointly owned by Plenus Entertainment (parent of film studio Cinema Service) and MVP Venture Capital, envisions 100 screens in Korea's underserved regional areas by 2004 (see Screendaily, August 15).

Major exhibitors in South Korea

CGV: 11 sites, 92 screens (172 screens planned by end of 2004)
Lotte: 5 sites, 53 screens (140 screens planned by end of 2003)
Megabox: 5 sites, 42 screens (150 screens planned by end of 2003)
Primus: 4 sites, 24 screens (100 screens planned by end of 2004)