Pact the latest step in WB's march into Spain

MADRID — Raising the stakes still higher in Spain’s hyper-competitive distribution market, Warner Bros. has teamed with Spanish film and TV conglom Sogecable to create a joint film distribution company, Warner Sogefilms.

The combo marks a step up in Warner Bros.’ ongoing relationship with Sogecable, controlled by French paybox Canal Plus (25%) and Spanish media empire Prisa (25%), as well as with top Sogecable exec Jose Vicuna, president of Sogecable’s distribution division, Sogepaq.

This July, Time Warner struck the biggest digital TV deal in Spanish history, licensing exclusive rights to WB product for Sogecable’s digital TV platform CanalSatelite Digital (CSD). Warner Bros. Intl. Theaters also partners Sogecable and Portuguese major Lusomundo in a joint Spanish exhibition venture, Warner Lusomundo Cines de Espana.

Announcing Warner Sogefilms, Ed Frumkes, president of Warner Bros. Intl. Theatrical Distribution, praised Vicuna as a “recognized and important figure” in Spain. Vicuna has worked since 1968 as the president of Spanish company Warner Espanola, which has distributed WB movies in Spain for three decades.

The new venture is bound to fuel speculation about Time Warner exercising an option to take a minority equity stake in digital satcaster CSD, as well as kick-starting film or TV co-production with Sogecable.

Warner Sogefilms also is a powerful reply to the brutal tensions in Spain’s distribution market. With the highest number of firstrun releases of any major territory in Europe — 404 in 1996 — competition for key playdates in Spain is particularly bitter.

Sogecable’s distribution outfit Sogepaq already partners Polygram Filmed Entertainment (PFE) in a 50/50 theatrical venture for Spain, Sogepaq Distribucion. Sogepaq and PFE are currently negotiating a renewal of their joint operation, due to lapse in September 1998.

One logical scenario would now see WB, Sogepaq and Polygram teaming in a three-way alliance at least for theatrical bookings and collections. That partnership could command a 15-20% theatrical market share.

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