At a time when most Americans say they would rather watch a movie at home, the country's second-largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment...

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At a time when most Americans say they would rather watch a movie at home, the country’s second-largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment, announced plans yesterday to acquire Loews Cineplex Entertainment.

Despite banking blockbusters such as the final “Star Wars” episode and the prequel to “Batman,” movie-theater ticket sales are down about 7 percent this year, according to Nielsen Entertainment, which measures box-office sales.

The merged company will have ownership or interests in about 450 theaters in 30 states and 13 countries.

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The announcement that the billion-dollar movie houses will combine comes as ticket sales are on a 17-week slide, marking the worst low since 1985, when some of the best offerings included the lackluster “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

A recent Associated Press-AOL News poll showed that nearly three-fourths of Americans would rather watch a movie from the comfort of their own homes.

But Brandon Gray, president of boxofficemojo.com, an online box-office tracker, said it makes sense that AMC and Loews would pool their resources.

“The DVD boom has made watching movies more convenient, and it seems that the time between theatrical release and DVD release is getting shorter and shorter,” Gray said. “Theaters will have to band together to survive.”

Local impact

The merger of AMC and Loews would give AMC control of all the theaters in downtown Seattle. Landmark, a chain of mostly art-house theaters, is the only other chain showing first-run movies in Seattle. Regal Cinemas operates several theaters in suburban areas of the Puget Sound region.

AMC charges $9.50 admission in its downtown theaters, compared with $9 at Loews’ Meridian. Outside downtown, prices range from $8.75 to $9.25 for evening screenings.

Loews (10 theaters)

Meridian 16*

Oak Tree Cinemas

Uptown Cinemas

Alderwood Mall Cinemas

Redmond Town Center

Grand Cinemas (at Alderwood)

Factoria Cinemas 8

Woodinville 12

Lakewood Town Center

Cascade Cinemas (Burlington)

AMC (6 theaters)

Pacific Place 11*

Cinerama

Renton Village 8

Kitsap 8

Narrows Plaza 8 (Tacoma)

Cinerama* (owned by Paul Allen and operated by AMC)

Landmark (7 theaters)

Seven Gables

Neptune

Guild

Egyptian

Harvard Exit

Metro

Crest Cinemas

Regal Cinemas (13 theaters)

Alderwood Stadium 7

Auburn Cinema 17

Bella Bottega

Crossroads

East Valley 13

Everett 9

Galleria 11

Issaquah 9

Longston 14

Marysville 15

Mountlake 9

Parkway Plaza 12

South Hill Mall Cinemas

* Downtown Seattle theaters

Seattle Times staff

According to the same AP-AOL poll, 82 percent of Americans have DVD players.

That wasn’t the case in 1995, when AMC reinvented moviegoing with the megaplex and its stadium-style and better sound playing at theaters with 14 or more screens. Last year, AMC reported a loss of more than $10 million.

AMC spokeswoman Pam Blase said the industry always has ups and downs.

“It’s safe to say we’re in a down cycle right now, but it will go up again, and we will be there with a very strong company,” Blase said.

She could not say if the merger would result in theater closings or layoffs, saying those details would be determined later.

Michael Savner, an analyst with Banc of America Securities, expects an upswing in ticket sales in the second half of the year.

Savner also said in a research note that the nation’s largest movie-theater chain, Regal Entertainment Group, and the third-largest, Carmike Cinemas, focus on different markets than AMC and Loews, so he does not expect the merger to result in “meaningful competitive implications.”

The combined companies will keep the AMC name and stay headquartered in Kansas City. It will be led by AMC Chairman, CEO and President Peter Brown.

Travis Reid, president and CEO of New York-based Loews Cineplex will co-chair an integration committee with Brown.

“There is still plenty of room for consolidation left in the industry,” said Judy Russell, a spokeswoman for Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas. Carmike has 2,489 screens in small to midsize markets in 37 states.

Loews and AMC said the companies plan to refinance their debts to close the merger.

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Loews had $1.75 billion of total assets and $1 billion in total debt at the end of last year. AMC reported a loss of $10.7 million on revenue of $1.78 billion in 2004.

This is not the first time AMC and Loews have been in merger talks. They called off discussions in January of last year not long before a group of private investors purchased the publicly traded AMC for about $2 billion.

Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and Spectrum Equity Investors also acquired Loews Cineplex from Onex and Oaktree Capital Management for $1.5 billion last year.