Universal Not in Talks to Sell Focus Features


Universal Pictures is not currently in negotitions to sell Focus Features, its specialty film division, and according to sources, no talks about any possible deal are scheduled.

"Over time we have gotten a lot of offers for Focus, but there are no active negotiations taking place at this time," a studio spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter Friday in response to report in the Los Angeles Times that the brothers Alec and Tom Gores are in talks to buy the unit.

While the Gores brothers have made an informal proposal to buy Focus, due to the pending merger of the NBC Universal assets with Comcast, any deal is unlikely in the midst of regulatory reviews. Comcast may not get clearance for weeks or months to close the merger, and there can be no sale of Focus or any other of Universal's major assets until after merger is completed.

Universal has fielded a number of offers for Focus in recent years, but in each case decided to retaining the specialty arm, headed by James Schamus, along with its approximately 250 title library.

Although Focus handles its own theatrical releases, it's very much connected to its parent company, which handles finance, administration and ancillary distribution for the unit.

The only successful suitor for a similar Uni asset was Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity Media who acquired Rogue Pictures in January, 2009. The studio sold Rogue at the time, according to an executive familiar with the deal, both because of the price offered and because Uni kept the distribution of the movies which allowed it to generate income from fees. It also cemented a closer relationship with Relativity, which has a larger deal by which it finances a significant number of Universal productions.

Kavanaugh made a bid earlier this year for Focus, but couldn't make the deal.

Focus currently has a potential awards season contender with The Kids Are All Right, and had its biggest success in 2005 with Brokeback Mountain, which grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

Focus did business earlier this fall with George Clooney in The American, which it counter-programmed over Labor Day weekend, but it has also box office disappointments with a serious Ben Stiller in Greenberg and the comedy It's Kind Of A Funny Story.

Investors Alec Gores and Tom Gores are both successful in other businesses, and their access to capital have made them potential players in the entertainment space.

Alec Gores has made a fortune through leveraged buyouts of technology companies. In 1995, Tom Gores founded Platinum Equity, which last year Forbes ranked among the fastest growing private companies in the U.S.

For their move into show biz, they have been counseled by brother Sam Gores, who runs the Paradigm talent agency. They have been looking for entertainment assets to acquire for at least the past two years.

The Gores were players in the early stages of the MGM auction and made a serious run at buying Miramax from Disney, a deal which closed this past week with a $663 million sale to others. They also negotiated with John Malone's Liberty Media/Starz for Overture Films, with backing from the management group. Instead, Liberty gave the marketing and distribution operations to Relativity and kept the small film library as part of a larger reorganization.