After decades of steadily declining audiences, Brazil is suddenly witnessing something of a cinema renaissance, with new players entering the market and existing exhibitors expanding their circuits.

The new money is being invested by major Spanish exhibitor Cinebox, which has revealed plans to open more than 100 screens in the territory over the next four years.

Founded in 1997, and with a circuit of 73 screens in its home country, Cinebox last year established a powerful Spanish exhibition consortium: Central de Actividades y Exhibicion Cinematografica (CAEC) with Abacocine (Cines Abaco) and Grupo Lauren (Lauren Cinemas). They jointly operate a total of 300 screens in 45 multiplexes, making them one of the largest cinema groups in Spain.

Cinebox Brazil has recruited former UCI Brazil director general, Miguel Fontanet, to head the start-up operation which aims to have two of its planned 10 multiplexes operational by the end of 2002.

The arrival of a new player in Brazil is welcome news in what is a vastly underscreened country. The world's fifth most populous country has less than 2,000 screens for an estimated 172 million inhabitants.

Brazil's exhibition market is led by Texas-based Cinemark, which operates some 236 screens in the country, with several more scheduled to open this year.

Local circuit, Grupo Severiano Ribeiro owns more than 170 screens and has plans to invest nearly $25m in five new multiplex developments.

UCI, with 99 screens across nine multiplexes, has invested around $52m in the territory over the last five years, with an additional $26m earmarked for further expansion over the next three years.

Another recent arrival on the Brazilian exhibition scene, Hoyts General Cinema, a joint venture between Australia's Hoyts and the U.S. circuit, entered the market in 1999 and currently operates one multiplex.

According to figures compiled by BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social'National Bank for Economic and Social Development), 169.2 million Brazilians spent more than $250m at the box office during 2000, a 37% increase over 1999.