Rob Friedman Aims to Build "Worldwide Content Company" With Tang Media Partners

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Rob Friedman

The former Lionsgate and Summit exec is looking to create and distribute films throughout the world.

In his newly announced role as chairman and CEO of TMP Entertainment, Rob Friedman sees "a great opportunity" to build a "worldwide content company." Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Friedman, who stepped down as the co-chair of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group in September 2016, explained that he first began speaking with Donald Tang, chairman and CEO of Los Angeles-based Tang Media Partners, about a year ago.

"Basically," said Friedman, "I was saying I wanted to build another worldwide content company. He was thinking about accumulating assets that would fit into my strategy so the two aligned. I like Donald's enthusiasm and excitement about the future. He liked my vision and where I felt it could go, so it worked out great."

As head of TMP Entertainment, Friedman will oversee Open Road Films (which Tang Media Partners is acquiring from AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment Group), IM Global (in which Tang Media took a majority stake last year) and IMG Global Television. The goal, said Friedman, is "to build a worldwide solution to provide filmmaker opportunity, to create and distribute around the world."

At a moment when China is threatening to impose restrictions on foreign investments, Friedman says he has no concerns about the funding behind Tang Media, which has emphasized that, despite investors like China's Tencent, more than 51 percent of its backing comes from U.S. sources. "The way that TMP is structured and its finances are structured, I have no concerns about that whatsoever," he said. "They already have, between the facilities already in place for Open Road and the facilities already in place for IM Global, way more than enough runway for the next couple of years. There’s $500 million-plus of capital behind the company right now. And I’ve had great success so I have a lot of investors on the U.S. side as well as the European side who want to come and play again, so I have no concerns about our ability to raise capital."

Although IM Global founder Stuart Ford exited that company on Monday, Friedman said he'd had no conversations with either Ford or Tom Ortenberg, who will continue to run Open Road and report to Friedman, in advance of Tuesday's announcement. He declined to say whether he expects to enlist a new executive to fill Ford's post. "It's actually been five hours since I've started," Friedman said. "So my first order of business is to go meet and to learn and familiarize myself with both teams. They’re all doing great work, and I just want to understand their cultures and the people involved and hope we’ll all learn from each other."

While Open Road — which was created to focus on mid-range movies that could feed the theater circuits in between studio tentpoles — has suffered through a string of box-office reversals of late, which led AMC and Regal to put it on the block, Friedman was upbeat about the distributor's potential. "I think they have an excellent platform with good people involved. We all know in the movie business, there are good years and bad years. They’ve had some excellent years, and I feel very comfortable with the opportunities ahead. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring whatever experience I have to help in the future," he said. As for Open Road's past strategy, Friedman added, "Mid-range is great to be in, but I also see us going for a couple of bigger-budget tentpoles films for the independent space, not the studio space. There is very great material out there and great filmmakers and efficient ways to mount those movies, so you can get big entertainment for a lot less money."

Could Open Road also distribute Chinese-made movies in the U.S.? "To be honest, we haven't discussed any specifics about the business that is currently very active in China," Friedman said. "I'm in the business of opportunity, so whatever presents itself as an opportunity is good by me. We just have to explore and learn." As for Open Road movies finding distribution in China, he added, "Listen, anything is possible. Having a sister company that has boots on the ground and marketing and distribution in China is a great opportunity for us and puts us a little bit ahead, and I think that's great."

As for whether Friedman intends to create a new version of Summit Entertainment — the financing, production and sales company where he served as co-chair and CEO before its acquisition by Lionsgate — the exec said, "Listen, a lot of that experience is going to be beneficial in what I’m going to do in the future. But I think the marketplace has clearly changed since 2007 when we started Summit. The digital explosion, the social media explosion, consumer behavior has change a bit, so I’m excited for the new opportunity. Clearly, my experience in building and growing Summit and Lionsgate is going to add benefit to the new venture."

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