Village Roadshow Cinemas International has officially launched its own branded cinema chain in the UK with a market identity distinct from its existing joint venture with Warner Bros International Theatres (WBIT) - Warner Village Cinemas.

The new Village sites will be designed and fitted out according to the Village corporate image already in place on theatres in Germany, France (the recently opened Nice site), Greece, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria. The first UK site to be branded a Village cinema will be the recently opened 7-screen multiplex in Birkenhead.

Up to ten sites have already been located under the new Village initiative; however it has no impact on the Warner Village building programme which operates 28 sites at present and plans to have at least 40 in place by 2002.

"In 1996, when we formed the joint venture, it was with the understanding that Village had an appetite to build both with Warner Bros and also sites in which they had 100% ownership," explained Millard Ochs, president of Warner Bros International Theatres, from the US yesterday.

"As we moved down the line, we realised that the appetite for the joint venture would be about 40-45 locations in total. If we felt that was the optimum number, then that was the UK finished as far as the development programme was concerned. But they still had an appetite for more." Ochs stressed that the relationship between WBIT and Village was as strong as ever.

All sites under consideration are submitted to Warner Village, but mechanisms were put in place in 1996 so that if the joint venture rejected any site for the joint venture, Village was entitled to go it alone. The 100%-owned Village sites were originally to be branded as Warner Village (as was the Birkenhead complex originally), but Village decided that its European brand was so strong it wanted to manage its own investments away from the joint venture.

Village-branded sites will share accounting, booking systems and some of the supply contracts with Warner Village but will employ its own staff and has separate London premises from Warner Village.

Other sites being developed by the new Village initiative include Carlisle, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Southport, Belfast, Lancaster and at the Lowry Centre in Manchester.

Meanwhile Warner Village continues its own programme with the recent signing of a multiplex site at Greenside Place in Edinburgh and the opening this year of a 30-screen megaplex in Birmingham and a cityplex in Worcester. Warner Village is also looking to London for a string of sites including Islington and Shepherds Bush.

Due to time zone differences, John Crawford, executive chairman and co-CEO of Village Roadshow International Exhibition, was unable to comment for this story.