Hoyts back in pack

Exhib to distrib again, now for Packer's Nine

SYDNEY — In a move that bodes well for sellers of independent films to Australia, Kerry Packer’s search for corporate synergy has sparked the return of Hoyts Cinemas to the distrib biz.

The market has long been a tough nut for sellers, with Roadshow Film Distributors virtually the only game in town for sellers of top-shelf U.S. and British films, apart from the acquisition-minded local arms of the Hollywood majors.

But with Packer-run Nine Network’s recent commitment to investing in Oz feature films, Hoyts — bought by Packer’s private vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings in 1999 — will grow Hoyts Distribution, an output arm that will serve not only as a conduit for Nine but as a way to acquire and move international product through the various arms of the Packer empire.

Hoyts Cinemas CEO Paul Johnson told Daily Variety the plan is to release 10-15 titles annually: a mix of Australian films sourced from sister label Nine Films & Television and U.S., U.K. and foreign-lingo pickups.

Hoyts has tapped former 20th Century Fox vet Robert Slaviero to head Hoyts Distribution and already is negotiating its first acquisitions.

Slaviero, who stepped down last month after heading Fox Distributors’ Australian branch for five years, officially signs on at Hoyts Oct. 1, although he will rep the new entity at this month’s Australian Movie Convention on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Johnson said he admired Slaviero’s savvy and negotiating skills during his tenure at Fox and jumped at the chance to hire him when he opted to leave the distrib.

Hoyts, which operates more than 400 screens in Australia and New Zealand, withdrew from the distrib biz in the late 1980s, but Johnson contends the biz has changed greatly from that era.

“In those days, there was more risk in terms of acquiring product,” he said. “Now it is easier to buy films when they are completed rather than at the script stage. And in Australia, we have more screens, a healthy local industry and a real culture of moviegoing.

Johnson expects Hoyts Distribution to be part of a one-stop shop for pics it acquires.

“Our biggest attribute as a distributor is we will be able to promote and market films across Hoyts Cinemas, the Nine Network, CPH’s magazines and ninemsn (the Internet co-venture with Microsoft),” Johnson said. “We bring a lot of added value.”

While Hoyts Distribution’s acquisition focus primarily will be on U.S. and U.K. films, Johnson expressed interest in buying foreign films, noting, for example, the success of local product at Hoyts’ circuits in Latin America. An acquisition exec will be hired soon.

“Dirty Deeds,” a crime caper starring Bryan Brown, Toni Collette and John Goodman — the first feature in which Nine invested — will bow via Hoyts late next year. Johnson says Nine Films & TV aims to produce three films per year.

Johnson expects Hoyts Distribution will handle three to five films next year, expanding to 10-15 titles in 2003. The banner also will release films in New Zealand. He added that he’s reviewing the options for routing Hoyts’ product on homevideo.

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