South Africa’s second-largest cinema group, Nu Metro, became the latest Times Media Group (TMG) divestment this week after it was sold for R75?million. TMG, previously Avusa, has been shedding non-core assets, including retail chains Exclusive Books and Van Schaik Publishers, since last year. One Fifty, which bought Nu Metro, highlighted the roll-out of Nu Metro’s new luxury cinema brand, Scene. It recently completed its upgrade to digital projection at all 149 of its screens in the county. These “VIP” cinemas offer leather recliners and prescreening lounges, where cinema patrons can ditch the traditional popcorn and cold drinks for light meals and adult drinks. However, the future of cinema is not just about more extravagant “premium” experiences. It is also about reaching the unserved parts of the country, says Julian Kannigan, commercial director for One Fifty Capital. South Africa’s cinemas are overwhelmingly concentrated in Gauteng, where almost half of them are located. The remainder are mostly in Cape Town and Durban. “There are a significant number of people in South Africa who don’t have access to cinema and therefore never have experienced the current offering,” says Kannigan. Nu Metro is also eyeing “underscreened” countries in west and east Africa, he adds. Nu Metro’s turnover last year was R414?million, but the division has an operating loss of R3?million. It has 149 screens in 19 complexes, while market leader Ster-Kinekor, owned by Primedia, has more than 400 screens at 54 sites. The local box office is worth just under R800?million a year, according to the National Film and Video Foundation’s annual report on cinema releases. This excludes the popcorn and cold-drink sales, as well as the advertising income from cinemas that are crucial to the business.