O'seas sales post record

Indie films, currently scoring in critics’ circles, are riding high in the foreign marketplace as well.

Overseas sales from licensing deals in all media for independently financed films surged to a peak of $1.655 billion in fiscal 1996, according to an annual survey of the American Film Marketing Assn.’s 120 members by KPMG Peat Marwick.

The boost, fueled primarily by the expanding overseas TV market, represents a 21% gain in total revenues over last year. Biggest gains came in the licensing of films for theatrical distribution, marked by a 37% increase over the previous frame, to $501 million in total sales.

“In an era when the competition around the world is becoming more intense, it is gratifying to see that the independents are continuing to be a vital force in the global marketplace,” AFMA prexy Jonas Rosenfield said.

Measured as of June, the survey covers sales by AFMA companies, with 68% of membership reporting sales fig-ures confidentially to KPMG.

Impressive lineup

AFMA’s roster includes companies such as Spelling Films Intl., Rysher Entertainment, Trimark Pictures, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock, Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Miramax, as well as sales companies Largo Entertainment and Summit Entertainment, along with overseas outfits such as Film Four and Rank.

KPMG’s blind survey is conducted on a voluntary basis however, with the numbers weighted to reflect the membership as a whole, regardless of whether those companies responded to the survey.

Among the films contributing to surging sales numbers are “Evita,” “To Die For,” “Trainspotting,” “Seven,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Michael,” which stars John Travolta. Other pics licensed during the period surveyed but not yet released include Largo’s “In Pursuit of Honor” starring Demi Moore and Summit’s “Seven Years in Tibet,” which toplines Brad Pitt.

The survey reflects a continuing upswing first indicated in last year’s numbers, when total sales were $1.374 bil-lion, reversing for the first time a downward trend that had prevailed since 1993.

Indie mavens say the numbers reflect a healthy recovery by the industry from the disastrous slump of the homevi-deo market, with TV sales taking up the slack, particularly in Europe.

Europe dominated the world market for English-language, independently licensed fare, with a 56% share of global revenues in all media.

Germany and Italy are leading the way with pay TV sales nearly doubling in each territory. Theatrical sales in those two countries also showed significant leaps, indicating a new linkage.

Video clout fading

“There are more TV players getting into all rights deals,” observed AFMA vice chairman Kathy Morgan, of Kathy Morgan Intl. “Video used to drive our business, but those days are long gone. Video numbers are still good, but only for pictures that work theatrically and will do well on TV.”

The U.K. continues to be a tough market for indie distribs however, with theatrical sales down 40%. “There are fewer slots, the country is under-screened and the share to distributors is the lowest in the world,” Morgan said. “The marketing expense in the U.K. is also high.”A buying spree by Brazilian companies was the only bright spot in an otherwise grim Latin American market. Brazil’s fervor however, showed signs of cooling at the most recent Mifed in Milan.

The battle against piracy in Asia appears to be bearing results, as video numbers in such traditional pirate strongholds as Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines showed significant increases in legitimately licensed vid product.

Japan showed a huge jump in theatrical licensing, with a more than 100% pop in cinema sales over 1995 and a doubling of free and pay TV coin.

“I’m feeling bullish,” said Morgan, alluding to a theory current in indie sales circles. “This indicates the trend of the future. The majors are committing to big event movies, and that leaves room for the independents.”

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