StudioCanal acquires Kinowelt

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French movie powerhouse StudioCanal has officially bought up 100% of German independent distributor Kinowelt, the companies said Thursday.

The move makes StudioCanal the largest pan-European film distribution company with operations in the continent's three largest markets: France, Germany and the U.K., after the Gallic company bought Optimum Releasing in 2006.

"We're the only European company to have such a direct presence in the top three markets, "StudioCanal's chairman and CEO Olivier Courson told The Hollywood Reporter. With a stake in these three top territories, StudioCanal will control a market worth 3 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in boxoffice receipts and 7 billion euros ($10.2 billion) in home video sales. StudioCanal will add Kinowelt's 7,000-plus library titles to its already 5,000-strong catalog.

"Our priority is to develop our strategy in each of these three countries and band them together to create a European network," Courson said. StudioCanal is hoping to not only profit from Kinowelt's massive library of DVD rights and distribution benefits, but also aggressively develop the company's international production activities.

StudioCanal plans to invest 200 million euros ($292.2 million) per year in both local and international film production, over 30 million euros ($43.8 million) more than the group's current investment. "We're in a great position to develop international production. We want to be the choice for a European co-producer," Courson said.

He added: "We're going to partner more and more with the U.S. majors and take advantage of remake rights. This is our new strategy, and we're going to amplify it with the acquisition of Kinowelt." StudioCanal wholly funded Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights" in 2006 and already has a slew of international co-productions in the works including Johnny To's next film featuring an international cast and a confidential "U.S. studio partner" and a prequel/remake of John Carpenter's "Escape From New York."

Kinowelt has been distributing StudioCanal's films in Germany for years, and the companies plan to extend their strong professional relationship. Michael and Rainer Kolmel will remain in their positions as senior advisers to Kinowelt, Michael for strategy and Rainer for acquisitions.

Both companies refused to comment on the price tag of the merger, rumored to be in the 70 million euro ($103 million) range.

The deal, signed late Wednesday night, will be officially set in motion "as quickly as possible," according to StudioCanal, which hopes to see the acquisition in place by the end of February or beginning of March.

Rebecca Leffler reported from Berlin; Scott Roxborough reported from Berlin.
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