Buyers: Size matters

Distributors unite for multiple-territory deals

International indie buyers have discovered that bigger is better and consolidation across borders is key.

At Cannes, the key distribution outfits set up by Canada's Alliance Films, France's StudioCanal and Wild Bunch are starting to throw their weight around, signing multiple-territory deals for top product.

Other players also are setting up loosely organized partnerships to achieve economies of scale and better terms on rights acquisitions.

The biggest indication of the trend here so far is Alliance's five-territory deal for Summit's "Disaster Movie." The genre spoof will go through Alliance's network of Momentum in the U.K., Eagle in Italy, Aurum in Spain, Scanbox in Scandinavia and Alliance in Canada.

And Alliance is not alone. For the first time this Cannes, StudioCanal is buying for France, Germany (Kinowelt) and the U.K. (Optimum). Wild Bunch, with stakes in Central Films in Germany and BIM in Italy and an association with A Film in Benelux, also is inking multiple-territory deals.

The wave of consolidation shows little sign of abating.

Romanian media giant MediaPro recently snapped up U.K. distributor Metrodome, and French-based Tarak Ben Ammar has announced ambitious though still unspecific plans to build yet another pan-European operation.

"This definitely seems to be where things are going with people buying up several big European territories," said Rasmus Ramstad, CEO of Swedish powerhouse Svensk. "This is something we've been doing for years in Scandinavia, buying rights for the whole region."

The model being adopted by these Pan-Euro players mirrors that of PolyGram's empire building in the 1990s — with one major difference. While PolyGram copied the Hollywood studios' top-down model, today's indie giants are taking a more flexible approach.

StudioCanal-owned Optimum already has picked up Steven Soderbergh's hotly anticipated "Che" for the U.K., but Optimum's French parent and German sister company Kinowelt are waiting for the film's Cannes premiere before putting in bids of their own. Similarly, Kinowelt has acquired StudioCanal's documentary "Baby(ies)" for Germany but passed on Cedric Klapisch's comedy "Paris," which went to competing German distributor Tobis.

The flexible approach also applies to their local production ambitions, which results in the bigger, international titles like Studio Canal's English-language remake of Johnnie To's "The Red Circle" going through its cross- border network. For smaller local-language movies, such projects are sold off on a case-by-case basis. (partialdiff)