MIPTV: Studiocanal Buys into Benedict Cumberbatch's Production Company Sunny March TV

Benedict Cumberbatch

The French studio has taken a 20 percent stake in Cumberbatch's TV company in addition to minority stakes in Britain's Urban Myth Films and Spain's Bambu Producciones.

France's Studiocanal has taken a 20 percent stake in Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company Sunny March TV and grabbed minority stakes in two other prominent European television companies: Atlantis producer Urban Myth Films of London and Spain's Bambu Producciones, who has signed on to produce Netflix's first original series in Spain.  

Studiocanal has acquired a 20 percent stake in Urban Myth and a 33 share of Bambu. 

Studiocanal Chairman and CEO Didier Lupfer made the announcement Monday at a press conference at television market MIPTV in Cannes. As part of the deals, Studiocanal will take over international sales of all of its new partners' productions. 

"It's all about the European story here. We're no longer French. Studiocanal gets 80 percent of its revenues outside of France," said COO Romain Bessi.

The new deals nearly doubles Studiocanal's television portfolio to eight European production companies. The French company already owns Germany's Tandem, makers of Pillars of the Earth, and U.K.'s RED Production Company (Last Tango in Halifax) and have minority stakes in Scandinavian shingle SAM , London’s Guilty Party, founded by the producer and actor-writer of TV-turned-film-franchise The Inbetweeners, and Final Twist, the newly-launched production company run by bestselling author Harlan Coben and RED Production Company’s Nicola Shindler. The TV operation parallel's Studiocanal's strategy on the film side, where it controls independently-operated production companies and coordinates sales and distribution across multiple territories.

The company recently launched a U.S. television production arm, run by Tandem head Rola Bauer.

“Being in the geographical center of Europe we obviously saw local content performs better than U.S. content on all the main TV networks in all the main countries. We thought we could replicate what we have done on the movie side and go for high end local series and grow internationally. This is why we are happy to expand with very complimentary companies, meaning companies that will bring something to us and hopefully we will bring something to them and also they will bring something to each other. That combination will add value,” said CEO Didier Lupfer.

Cumberbatch will have an active role in some projects. “There are some projects that he is heavily in the development stages and he is in all of the meetings, and there are some that he is less involved in but may be later, so it’s very organic.” Cumberbatch and Studiocanal are already working together on the WWII drama The War Magician, in which Cumberbatch is set to star and which Sunny March is producing together with Storyscape Ent. and Lonetree Ent.

“It thrills me that a studio of the quality of Studiocanal wants to partner with us ... and make new content, diverse stories for multiplatforms and create a wing of its entertainment outreach with us. ... It’s terribly exciting,” Cumberbatch said in a recorded video message. “It’s a brilliant partnership and I can’t think of anyone that would be better suited to what we want to achieve, and I can’t wait to be as active a part of that as possible.”

"We are working with some incredibly big stakes on some big title projects,” which they will announce soon said Sunny March producer Adam Ackland. While the newly-launched company will need time to ramp up production, they hope to have two projects off the ground within two years. “We aspire to make things for the U.K. that will expand internationally,” said Ackland.

Studiocanal may also dig into its film library and intellectual properties for potential projects. "I think in the new world [that IP] can be a springboard for big international series,” said Urban Myth producer Julian Murphy.

Lupfer noted that Studiocanal has up to 100 television projects in development at this time within the seven companies they are partnered with.

Last year Studiocanal’s revenue was derived from 60 percent film, 25 percent from library and 15 percent from television. Lupfer said the aim is to have 20 series per year and take the TV division up to 25 percent of revenue for Studiocanal.

“We want to be strong here, totally focused on the European territory, and to be an alternative to the U.S. studios. We are looking for a very big anchor in Europe because we have a big history behind us and we are multi-cultural,” said Lupfer. But future growth will come from Europe, and they are not looking to acquire or invest in a U.S. studio at this time.

“We are not wanting to buy companies in the U.S. We looked at all the options in the U.S. and we realize that our DNA is really European and it’s really about building things in Europe and then see what we can do with them in the U.S,” said Bessi. “We are totally focused on talent and stories from Europe.”

There may be a couple of other small acquisitions in the near future, but overall the pace of acquisitions will slow down, said Bessi.

The company sees more potential in southern Europe and any future acquisitions will likely come from there. “The U.K. is huge, but in a way it is already there," said Bessi. "There is still big opportunity to grow in southern Europe. There’s still a big chance for France, Italy and Spain to catch up." 

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