Romania is expected this week to unveil details of the privatisation of a significant number of state-owned cinemas.
The move was revealed by Decebal Mitulescu, director general of the National Centre of Cinematography (CNC), the state-body which has regulatory, funding and administrative functions similar to the French organisation with the same initials.
While nearly all exhibition outlets in the former-Communist state are state-controlled Mitulescu said that privatisation would concern a particular group of about 60 screens, which will be put up for public auction.
Romania has about 500 cinema screens in the state sector, but since the post-Cold War regime change more than half have closed down, become derelict or been allowed to change function. The theatres are owned and administered by another state body, but some 100, said to be "in the public domain of the state", see their management sub-contracted to the CNC.
Private investment is being sought for nearly two-thirds of the theatres in this sub-group as the cost of bringing them up to modern standards is beyond the means of the CNC.
While details have yet to be finalised, Mitulescu said that the CNC will be offering ten-year, renewable leases. Rents payable to the CNC will be kept deliberately low in order that investors can turn a profit after putting cash into modernisation. Investors will be required to maintain the theatres as working cinemas. "The delicate problem is that cinema halls have not been as good a business as converting cinemas into discos or bowling alleys," said Mitulescu.
Potential investors include foreign financiers, local property developers and local and foreign media groups. Romanian private sector TV and studio group Media Pro is one player that has indicated its willingness to bid for some of the cinemas.
The long-awaited move - which has been frequently delayed and may again be held up - is widely seen as one of the key steps needed to rebuild a Romanian cinema industry.
Not only has the number of functioning theatres dropped, admissions have collapsed from a pre-1989 average exceeding 150 million per year to an estimated five million for 2003. Box office is also desperately low, with ticket prices less than Euros1 in the state sector and roughly Euros3 at capital city Bucharest's single multiplex.