Norway's largest exhibitor, the municipally-owned Oslo Cinemas, will be privatised before the end of this year, with the Oslo City Council which owns the company, planning to sell between 66 % and 100 % of its shares.

Oslo Cinemas operates with 11 cinemas and 31 screens and attracted 3 million admissions last year. It controls more than 25 % of Norway's cinema market.

The terms of the sale have not yet been unveiled. However, it is already clear that cinema properties worth $27m and owned by Oslo Cinemas will be sold separately to real estate investors or cinema operators as part of the privatisation process set to begin this month. The asking price for the operating company without the properties will be $6.7m.

When half of the Oslo Cinemas' board rejected a proposed increase of the stake to be sold from 66 % to 100 % earlier this month, the opposing board members were immediately fired by the Oslo City councillor.

Almost simultaneously, liquidation plans for five cinema sites - among them the centrally located Filmteatret and Felix cinemas - became known to the public, sparking a furious public debate around the future of Oslo's Cinemas

While private exhibitors have been running movie theatres for decades in other Scandinavian countries, Norwegian municipalities have regulated the number of theatres as well as their ownership structure in Oslo since 1913.

Several pan-Scandinavian exhibitors including Bonnier-owned SF Kino, Egmont-owned Nordisk Film Biografer and Schibsted-owned Sandrew-Metronome are expected to bid, along with local exhibitors such as the private cinema chain Kino 1.

The sales prospectus will be made public later this month and bids will be received until December 17th, when the Oslo City Council will decide how and to whom the Oslo Cinemas will be sold.

The exhibitor had a turnover of $29.1m and a $1.5m in pretax profit last year.