Lionsgate, India's Eros ink pact

Companies will split profits on venture

CANNES -- Lionsgate and India's Eros International are joining forces to distribute Lionsgate and other English-language content to the 1.3 billion-person South Asian market.

The companies will split profits 50-50 on the as-yet-unnamed venture, which will produce original films using U.S. and Indian talent and remake properties from each company. Lionsgate will draw on Eros theatrical (which controls 40% of the Indian market), home entertainment, television and new-media distribution channels for its catalog titles, and vice versa. Original and dubbed-language projects will be released.

Lionsgate co-chairman and CEO Jon Feltheimer said the distribution deal will begin immediately and that new production plans will be launched in about three months. Eros chairman and CEO Kishore Lulla estimates that it will start with two or three soon-to-be-announced projects and eventually ramp up to 10-20 productions a year using English- and Indian-language talent in the vein of films like "Bend It Like Beckham" for crossover appeal. By the end of the year, at least one exec will be hired to work specifically for the venture.

Lionsgate also will acquire North American home entertainment distribution rights to 20 top features from Eros' library of 1,900 titles.

Feltheimer said the company will be open to service deals or additional partners in the arrangement, citing Lionsgate's recent formation of the new pay TV channel with Viacom and MGM as an example of a similar collaboration. Feltheimer and Lulla met 12 years ago when Feltheimer was at Sony Pictures Entertainment and entered into a TV deal with Eros.

Lionsgate has had some of its biggest hits with violent genre fare, many of which would be considered too extreme for Indian audiences. Feltheimer sidestepped the issue when asked about it, instead mentioning such possible remake properties as "Dirty Dancing" and "The Eye" as films suited to the partnership.