Lionsgate plans aggressive 'Precious' rollout

Thanksgiving expansion to more than 600 theaters

TORONTO -- Lionsgate plans an aggressive expansion to more than 600 theaters for Lee Daniels' "Precious" over Thanksgiving after the inner city woe drama cranked out a buzzworthy $1.9 million on 18 screens on its opening weekend.

The Vancouver-based mini-major is wasting no time with its platform release of "Precious" as it continues Friday in five additional markets, including Washington and San Francisco, to "a couple hundred" screens.

During a conference call with analysts Tuesday, Joe Drake, president of Lionsgate's motion picture group, said "Precious" would move to 800-1,200 screens from Nov. 20. Drake said "Precious" has already generated word-of-mouth not normally seen until the sixth or seventh weekend of a prestige film title's theatrical release.

After the enthusiasm of the analyst call, a cost-conscious Lionsgate later in the day revised its projected Thanksgiving dates for "Precious" down to "over 600 screens."

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer cautioned it was too early to predict boxoffice gold for the indie film phenomenon, but added: "The $5.5 million investment in 'Precious' looks set to prove profitable."

The bright prospects for "Precious" ahead of its national rollout over Thanksgiving follows Lionsgate on Monday posting second-quarter earnings of $31.7 million, against a year-earlier loss of $51.8 million on new revenue from TV Guide Network and, higher TV revenue and lower theatrical marketing costs.

Overall revenue rose 3% to $394 million.

As in recent quarters, Feltheimer touted Lionsgate's diversification into TV production, driven by popular cable series like Showtime's "Weeds" and AMC's "Mad Men" and syndicated series that include "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and "The Wendy Williams Show."

Lionsgate predicted $300 million in TV production revenue on "double-digit margins" for full-year 2010.

Lionsgate also said that new movie channel Epix, which it co-owns with Paramount and MGM, is on track in negotiations to secure additional distribution partners soon. The new channel launched Oct. 30 with just one distribution partner, Verizon Communications' FiOS TV service, making it available to 2.5 million households.

Lionsgate told analysts that it believes that talks are "pointing" toward further distribution deals for the beginning of the year, potentially as early as January.

Reuters contributed to this report.