By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) - British cinema operator Cineworld Group (LSE:CINE) plans to open up to 25 new theatres over the next four years in a bid to gain the upper hand over privately owned rivals Odeon & UCI Group and Vue Cinemas.
Cineworld narrowly leads on box office admissions, with a 24.8 percent of market share, compared with Odeon's 24.4 percent and Vue's 22.4 percent, according to data from Dodona Research.
However the group trails Odeon in terms of the number of cinemas, with 101 sites in Britain and Ireland against its rival's 112. Vue has 80 theatres.
"We intend to open up to and possibly beyond 25 new cinemas ... up until 2017," Chief Financial Officer Philip Bowcock told Reuters on Tuesday.
The first new site will open in Wembley, northwest London, next week. It will be followed by new cinemas in Gloucester, Swindon and Telford in western England, the firm said.
The number of British cinemagoers has been steadily rising since 2009, and there were 172.4 million admissions in 2012 compared with 171.56 million in 2011, according to data from the Film Distributors Association.
Box office revenues rose 5.9 percent to 1.1 billion pounds in 2012, according to the Cinema Exhibitors' Association.
Cineworld said its box office revenue in the 16 weeks to 17 October rose 1.4 percent, year-on-year, a figure Bowcock said was disappointing.
"I think overall cinema had a tougher time over this period than it has done historically, not helped by the weather," said Bowcock. "We're not alone in this."
The company said it expects trading in the fourth quarter to be strong despite the difficult comparison with the year-ago period due to the impact of Bond film Skyfall last year.
Cineworld recently bought independent movie operator Picturehouse for 47.3 million pounds ($76.43 million), which runs separately within the group and contributes 21 theatres to the company's 101 sites.
(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang; Editing by Pravin Char)