As movie theaters seek to boost ticket sales amid increasing competition from on-demand entertainment services through cable television and the Internet, such as Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and (Nasdaq: AMZN), strategic buyers are jockeying to snatch up struggling theater companies. Cinema chains are also becoming more creative in the services they provide.

A recent deal by Carmike Cinemas Inc. (Nasdaq: CKEC) underscores the trend. The Columbus, Ga.-based movie theater operator purchased nine entertainment complexes in November, gaining 147 movie screens across California, Florida and Illinois.

Such a deal not only keeps theaters in business but also provides an opportunity for larger companies to expand even further. For Carmike, the move brings it closer to the goal of operating 3,000 screens.

"We believe we have ample additional financial capacity to further optimize our theater portfolio through attractive acquisition opportunities," says David Passman, Carmike CEO.

Terms of the deal are undisclosed, but the chain has more than $88.1 million at its disposal. Carmike announced in July that it would go on a buying spree when it raised the cash through a secondary stock offering.

The land grabbing of cinema chains has also led to another trend, one in which operators now offer dining options. Bogart's Bar & Grill restaurants, for example, have been added to Carmike theaters in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Rosemont, Ill. Seven of the nine theaters are in Florida, and most have beer and wine service, entertainment centers, party rooms and conference facilities. Carmike expects a $68 million revenue boost.

Private-equity-backed movie chains have also looked to incorporate full-service food and beverage offerings. In September, Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) acquired Movie Tavern, a Dallas-based cinema chain, known for its 16 wine-and-dine locations. VSS previously had just one cinema location that also served meals, through New Orleans-based portfolio company Southern Theatres.

Strategic acquirers remain among the largest and most active buyers. VSS-backed Southern Theatres still trails a slate of publicly-traded corporations on the hunt for M&A opportunities, including Cinemark Theatres (NYSE: CNK), The Marcus Corp. (NYSE: MCS) and Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC), which bought Hollywood Theaters for about $191 million in cash in February.

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