South Africa's largest exhibitor Ster-Kinekorhas slashed the price of its cinema tickets in a move that is expected to leadto a surge in admissions in the country.

Ster Kinekor said that movie tickets will cost just$2.3 (R14) at the majority of its cinemas nationwide from this Friday - downfrom $5.75m (R35).

Theexhibitor owns 37 cinemas and five drive-ins and has a total of 348 screensand over 50 000 seats.

CEOFerdi Gazendam expects cinema attendance to increase from 16.5 million to 26million over the next financial year as a result.

The"paramount" shift in strategy is designed tap into the "emerging black market",after consistent declines in the sector of the more "traditional, white"audience.

"Wedid masses of research to understand our customers...There has been noattendance growth in 18 months. To come up with sustainable growth, we neededto go beyond the traditional marketing strategies," Gazendam told a mediabriefing.

To accommodate the new pricing Ster-Kinekor will convert its currentcinemas into two distinctive brands - Ster-Kinekor Junction and Ster-KinekorClassic.

Thirtyof the current Ster-Kinekorcinema complexes (80%) will be converted to Ster-Kinekor Junction where films will be shown for R14. Theremaining seven cinemas in the group will be known as Ster-Kinekor Classic with ticket prices remaining at R35.

Thecompany's closest competitor is Nu Metro with 28 complexes totalling 223screens. Prakash Desai, financialdirector of Johnnic Communications, the owners of Nu Metro, announced todaythat the group would meet Ster-Kinekor's challenge with a 'competitiveresponse'. However he gave no further details.