A start-up Russian company is seeking investors for a multiplex cinema circuit that it claims will control 30% of a market that could be worth $1bn within eight years.

According to local media reports, Alexander Timofeyev, co-founder of Investkinoproyekt, which owns one Russian cinema, said he and his partner Vladimir Murov are planning to build four to six multiplexes a year.

"It's clear that Russia lacks a national chain of movie theatres with a unified style and standards of management," Timofeyev said.

Investkinoproyekt has bought sites for multiplexes in 15 cities and is now seeking investors to put up the $5m - $8m for each development.

Local backer Rus bank is to invest $9m in a 10-screen cinema in Moscow and two other cinemas are also already under construction.

Investkinoproyekt will take a 25% stake in each building in return for contributing the land and know-how, and it will also operate them.

Timofeyev predicted Investkinoproyekt's returns would be between 25% - 30% per year. The company is talking with French and US investors, but expects Russian firms to be its main backers.

Timofeyev said the Russian box office reached $111m in 2002 and could reach $150m this year.

In seven or eight years, Moscow could have as many as 40 or 50 multiplexes, and national ticket sales could reach $1 billion, he said.

However, Paul Heth, president of new cinema chain Rising Star Media (screendaily 24 June 2002), warned of being too upbeat about the cinema market's potential.

Rising Star Media is building Russia's largest cinmema, an 11-screen multiplex in Moscow and plans to build six or seven more cinemas in Russia.

"The days of rapid growth are over," Heth said, adding that if Investkinoproyekt is right in that local box office could grow to $1bn per year, then Russia would be the fourth-highest grossing market after the United States, Japan and Britain.

He questioned whether returns of 25 percent to 30 percent were sustainable on a long-term basis.