Cineworld falls foul in arthouse cinema buyout

Michael Bow
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CINEMA chain Cineworld could be forced to sell three venues belonging to the art-house Picturehouse chain after regulators said owning the sites could drive up prices for cinema-goers.

The group, which runs 79 cinemas across the country, merged with Picturehouse in a £47m deal last December, giving the combined outfit a 26 per cent share of the UK market.

The Competition Commission said Cineworld’s ownership of three Picturehouse venues in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge city centre would stifle competition for punters in the area.

Cineworld and Picturehouse sites in Aberdeen and Bury St Edmunds are less than a half a mile apart, while in Cambridge the distance is just over a mile. Chief executive of Cineworld Stephen Wiener said the company was disappointed in the decision and would respond to the provisional findings.

“Cineworld and Picturehouse are two fundamentally different businesses that could operate in the same area,” he said in a statement.

The commission suggested Cineworld sell either its multiplex site or Picturehouse venue to remedy the situation.

Picturehouse, which has 21 UK venues in total, is the trade name for its parent company City Screen Group. Many of its venues were independent establishments before being acquired by Picturehouse.

Film critic Charlie Lyne said one Picturehouse could be as different to another as both are to Cineworld.

“It’s a chain by name only,” he added.