Lionsgate leaps to faith market


Lionsgate has become the latest studio to tap into the lucrative Christian entertainment market, with two initiatives that the mini-major is expected to announce today.

Lionsgate has cut a distribution agreement with Thomas Nelson Inc., making the Christian publisher the exclusive distributor of Lionsgate product in the Christian retail market.

The independent studio also has acquired exclusive North American home entertainment distribution rights to three DVD documentaries based on the best-selling books by leading Christian nonfiction author Lee Strobel: "The Case for Christ," "The Case for a Creator" and "The Case for Faith."

The books have sold a combined 8 million-plus copies and won numerous awards and critical accolades. The first documentary, "The Case for Christ," will ship to retail in the third quarter.

By linking with Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher in the world and the No. 6 publishing house overall, Lionsgate hopes to gain leverage for its existing library of product as well as upcoming inspirational titles such as "Church Boy," based on the true story of gospel music icon Kirk Franklin, and a feature adaptation of Thomas Kinkade's painting "The Christmas Cottage" (HR 4/9).

Lionsgate president Steve Beeks said his company already has "established a stronghold" in the black faith-based market through its partnership with Tyler Perry and the feature films "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Daddy's Little Girls."

"Lionsgate is making a concerted effort to expand its leadership in the faith-based category," Beeks said. "Making Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' the first new title under the Thomas Nelson relationship is a very powerful statement to show our commitment. Thomas Nelson has the best sales team in the industry, and they provide our faith-based product with unprecedented access to millions of proven Christian product buyers across the United States."

The Weinstein Co. announced in December that it was getting into the Christian film business through the formation of a faith-based distribution label and a first-look production deal with Impact Entertainment.

Three months earlier, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment unveiled FoxFaith, a branded distribution label set up to house the division's growing portfolio of faith-based programming. Fox had been experimenting with the Christian retail market since 2002, but its efforts really stepped up with the 2004 DVD release of "The Passion of the Christ," which the studio marketed through churches and other religious organizations. The studio now maintains a database of more than 90,000 congregations and claims a 75% market share of adult faith-based entertainment at Christian retailers. There are now dedicated FoxFaith sections in more than 1,000 Christian retail stores, according to division spokesman Steve Feldstein.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment also has successfully sold and marketed titles in the "Left Behind" Christian thriller series.