Swedish insolvent cinema circuit, Astoria Cinemas - once the country's second-largest theatre chain - has been sold to Svenska Bio, which is 49% controlled by Svensk Filmindustri (SF), a sister company of market leader SF Bio. After the deal, with Svenska Bio, Bonnier-owned SF and SF Bio account for almost 80% of Swedish exhibition.

In 2005 local competition authorities banned an SF Bio take-over of the 22 theatres (88 screens) belonging to Sandrew Metronome, claiming it would give SF Bio a monopoly-like position. Instead they wered sold to Astoria, set up by Triangelfilm with another two film companies, S/S Fladen and Atlantic Film. Triangelfilm has since gone bust.

Astoria has been in financial difficulties since it was launched, and SF Bio has in two rounds purchased all Astoria theatres outside the key cities of Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmo, then thecircuit's flagships, the Cinema Palaces in Stockholm and Goteborg.

The administrator of Astoria since it filed for bankruptcy on July 10, Urban Hjelm, had not consulted the competition authorities before negotiating the contract with Svenska Bio. 'My brief was to sell at the best possible price,' said Hjelm, adding that Astoria creditors are not likely to be paid. Proceeds from the sale will solely cover staff salaries.

Astoria creditors already suffered once in March, as they agreed to write down 75% of the $12m (Euros 9m) they were owed - among the creditors was the Swedish Film Institute, which lost $700,000 (Euros 500,000). But neither reducing debts nor selling in May the multiplexes in Stockholm and Göteborg gave Astoria much more than a moment of breathing space.

Set up by SF and the Fornstam family, Svenska Bio is already the second-largest exhibitor in Sweden, with 25 cinemas (72 screens) at 24 venues. The Astoria left-overs include seven theatres: Stockholm's Astorias at Kungsgatan and Nybrogatan, the Victoria, the Grand, multiplexes in Sickla and Malmo, as well as the Royal in Goteborg.

Before the purchase Svenska Bio controlled 10.5% of the theatrical market, while in the end Astoria accounted for 5.5%. SF Bio reigns at 61.9%, adding SF Partner's 1.8%. One of 20 bidders for the bankrupt chain, Svenska Bio would not yet comment whether it will continue to operate all seven theatres, and keep the name of Astoria.