By closing some of its loss-making South African cinema sites, wooing Indian and black audiences by increasing its Bollywood offer - and effective management of its labour costs, Ster-Kinekor, the territory's leading distributor/exhibitor has managed to engineer a turnaround in its fortunes at home.

The company reported a 39% improvement in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to $2.3m (R25.3m) for the six month period to December last year.

Chief Executive Ferdi Gazendam attributes the progress to management measures and the 8% increase in admissions to the circuit to 8 million during the period.

Figures were boosted by blockbusters like Mr. Bones, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings and Monsters Inc. "About 18 months ago I had no blockbusters in the pipeline. But now things look promising with movies such as Spiderman and Men In Black II coming up," says Gazendam.

In addition, Ster-Kinekor has identified about 50 sites in various predominantly black residential areas around the country where it intends to boost that sector of the market. "It's a long-term strategy that is not going to pay off overnight," he said.

Primedia, controller of Ster-Kinekor, offloaded three Ster Century Europe territories for $18.5m recently after reporting heavy losses earlier this year (Screendaily March 3).

The group has now secured joint management control of both SCE and Ster Century Middle East and says that concerted efforts are being made to improve cinema earnings abroad and to reduce rentals and central overhead costs.