City’s cinema sale raises millions

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A decision by the Oslo city government to sell off its chain of owned- and operated cinemas in the capital to Danish media firm Egmont will raise NOK 600 million (USD 103 million). Government leaders reject claims the city’s cinemas will become too commercially oriented, and vow they’ll put the new sale proceeds towards other cultural projects like the city’s long-neglected museums.

“We wanted to get the right buyer and the right price,” Stian Berger Røsland, head of the city government from the Conservative Party, said in announcing the sale this week. “With Egmont, both requirements are met. Egmont is a good, long-term owner with market experience.” Røsland and his fellow government leader Hallstein Bjercke from the Liberal Party believe Egmont will do a better job of running Oslo’s cinemas than the city could.

Aiming to meet demand
The City of Oslo, through its wholly owned Oslo Kino AS, has run the city’s cinemas for decades. Oslo Kino currently operates seven cinema complexes in Oslo with 27 screens and owns all the shares in Norsk Kinodrift AS, which runs cinemas in Asker, Askim, Halden, Horten, Hønefoss, Kilden, Kristiansund and Verdal. Oslo Kino also owns all the shares in two film distribution companies, has around 350 employees and generated revenues last year of around NOK 285 million.

Egmont has agreed to pay NOK 630 million for Oslo Kino, resulting in a net gain to Oslo Kommune of NOK 600 million. Through its new Egmont Nordisk Film, it will become a much bigger player in the cinema business: Egmont currently operates 17 cinemas in Denmark and co-owns a cinema in Drammen.

“I know that there’s been a lot of concern about the film offerings in Oslo,” John A Tønnes of Egmont’s new Norwegian cinema operation told reporters. He said public demand will determine which films are shown, but he promised that Egmont will continue to show a wide range of films in addition to box-office hits. He said Egmont would also continue to operate special cinemas like Gimle in Oslo, with its highly acclaimed films, fashionable fixtures, sales of wine and special coffee and a distinct lack of popcorn, and will extend the concept to Vika Kino, which is currently undergoing renovation. Oslo’s various cinemas, he said, will cater to various segments of the public and differ in their film offerings.

‘Sad day for Oslo’
Libe Rieber-Mohn, a city council member for the Labour Party, had opposed sale of the city’s cinemas and called the government’s latest privatization move “a sad day for Oslo.” She’s skeptical about how Egmont will run the cinemas, noted that Oslo Kino was a profitable business, and said she has little confidence in how the city will manage its gain on the sale.

Røsland and Bjercke said the sale proceeds will provide new funding for other projects like the long-debated new city library and a new Munch Museum.

“This money will come in handy,” Bjercke said, adding that he thinks Egmont also will be better suited to develop the cinemas in a constantly changing media world. Egmont is one of the leading media firms in the Nordic region, with interests in television, films, magazines, book publishing and an array of digital media products. In Norway, its holdings already include TV2, the Hjemmet Mortensen magazine group and a 50 percent stake in the Cappelen Damm publishing firm.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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