Russian firm riding local wave

Central Partnership retooling amid showbiz boom

Russian production and distribution company Central Partnership on Tuesday unveiled a restructuring to take better advantage of the country's booming film, distribution and TV market.

The company, which said 2006 was its most successful year ever with a 23% increase in revenue to more than $100 million, will now work with two additional business units.

A new unit, Central Partnership Sales House, headed by Armen Dishdishian, who was international sales vp, will spearhead sales, advertising and public relations.

The second unit, Central Partnership, will concentrate on cinema and TV projects and international acquisitions.

Both will be under the direction of the Central Partnership Group, headed by company founder Ruben Dishdishian, with finances, investment and strategic planning under its control.

"Last year was very successful for all in the cinema and television markets in Russia and former Soviet countries — the value of which in 2006 was, by our estimation, not less than $1.5 billion overall," Ruben Dishdishian said.

Maintaining the company's leading position in distribution, production and developing new business areas, like new media, are key goals, group executive director Sergei Shestakov said.

"We distributed 42 full-length features last year — a serious figure that compares well to many Western distributors," he said. "We also made 10 of our own films and 10 television series and have plans to produce 18 movies and series this year." Shestakov added that revenue is expected to grow 34% in 2007.

The private company did not reveal profit for 2006 but released a range of data that included consolidated operating cash flow figures showing growth of 21% in 2005 and 7% in 2006. Executives said the lower operating cash flow gains with higher-than-anticipated advertising and promotion spending on "Wolfhound," the company's flagship movie project that had a production budget of more than $10 million.

"Wolfhound" has made $21 million at the Russian and regional boxoffice and earned $1.2 million so far in international sales.

Although only a fifth of the group's earnings come from film distribution, with 72% from TV sales, Central Partnership plans to take its share of the Russian film distribution market from last year's 8%, or $33 million, to 14%, or an estimated $80 million, this year with a roster of 45 films, including 15 limited-release art house titles.

Mark Lolo, head of distribution at Central Partnership Sales House, said 2007 already is off to a good start with French cars-and-crime franchise "Taxi 4," which opened last week across Russia, grossing $6.5 million in its first weekend and a cumulative $8 million so far.