Warner Bros InternationalTheatres (WBIT) is expanding its reach into China's nascent cinema marketstill further via a deal to manage a chain of around 30 multiplexes which arebeing built by Chinese property developer, Dalian Wanda Group.

The deal, which was signed byWBIT president Millard Ochs and Dalian Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin in Beijingon Saturday (Jan 17), calls for WBIT to provide its management expertise andintellectual property - including the Warner Bros logo and Looney Tunecharacters - to the cinemas in return for a fee.

All the multiplexes -which are likely to be branded Warner Wanda Cinemas - will be located inDalian Wanda shopping malls in central urban locations. The first cinema underthe deal, a 10-screen multiplex with 2,500 seats, opened Sunday (Jan 18) in thenorth-eastern city of Tianjin.

Dalian Wanda expects to haveseven multiplexes operating by the end of the year and around 30 in the nextfour to five years.

Warner Bros has been movingaggressively into China's fast-growing cinema market over the past year.It already has a deal to build a circuit of up to 10 cinemas in a joint venturewith Shanghai Film Group and has agreed "in principle" to invest ina further 8-10 sites with Guangzhou Performance Co.

The latest deal doesn'tinvolve investment or ownership on the part of WBIT, but gives thecompanya presence in awide range of second-tier markets such asHarbin, Dalian and Shenzhen along with major markets such Shanghai and Beijing.In addition, as it is a management deal and not a joint venture, it'sexempt from having to seek government approval.

The Chinese governmentrecently lifted the ceiling on foreign investment in cinemas to 75% in sevencities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However, foreign companiesare still restricted to a 49% stake in joint venture cinemas in all otherlocations.