Canal changes name, ups coin for pic prod’n

Company to raise $188 mil on French stock market

PARIS — Canal Plus Image, the production and distribution arm of pay TV group Canal Plus, was redubbed StudioCanal Wednesday as the company unveiled plans to double investment in film this year to 370 million euros ($348 million).

Company also detailed plans to raise $188 million on the French stock market, and announced a forthcoming production deal with Mitch Horwitz, former president of the defunct U.S. production company Spelling Films.

After stunning journalists and analysts with images from the company’s film catalog — the world’s third biggest — chairman and CEO Vincent Grimond used Wednesday’s gathering in Paris to talk up ambitions to turn StudioCanal into a European “major.”

“It is a new company you have before you,” Grimond promised in portentous tones. “ ‘Studio’ defines very well the craft we have chosen for ourselves.”

Apart from the name change, however, StudioCanal retains the same structure as before, and very different from a typical U.S. major — grouping a constellation of companies and subsids in France and other European countries.

These elements include StudioCanal France, formerly Studio Canal Plus, the film production and rights acquisitions arm, a film library with 5,500 titles and a European distribution network still under construction.

In France this network is already in place via Bac Distribution, a joint venture with Bac Films; in Germany, through Tobis; and in Spain, Sogepaq. StudioCanal is negotiating distribution ventures in Italy and the U.K.

Stateside ventures

Meanwhile, the Horwitz deal, under which StudioCanal is to take a 30% stake in a production and sales company set up by the U.S. producer, is the latest in a string of Stateside ventures, including deals with Sony, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros., with which it shares a 50-50 stake in Bel Air Entertainment.

An ebullient Grimond told Daily Variety that the U.S. majors are now taking StudioCanal more seriously. Among factors in its favor today are American studios’ increasing reliance on foreign earnings.

The difference between StudioCanal and the traditional U.S. studio model is another source of strength, he said.

“We will retain our vertical organization. They are going to change faster than we will,” he predicted.

The share offering announced Wednesday will give StudioCanal a market capitalization of about $1.32 billion. The share price will be fixed on May 4.

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