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Carlotti gives DeAPlaneta muscle

Co. aims for integrated content distrib'n, prod'n, exhib'n group

MADRID — The San Sebastian Film Festival will greet an old hand in a new suit: the articulate, thrusting and some would say even visionary TV executive Maurizio Carlotti. Managing director of Spanish broadcaster Telecinco 1996-99, Carlotti inherited a nearly bankrupt web and turned it into one of the most profitable TV concerns in Europe. As Mediaset CEO, he was a major architect of the far-reaching and short-lived Kirch-Mediaset axis Epsilon.

He now faces another significant challenge. On Sept. 17, prexy Carlotti hosted the first official presentation of DeAPlaneta, a combo of Italy’s publishing and video giant De Agostini and Spanish media company Planeta. DeAPlaneta has tapped Pau Calpe, former Esicma CEO, to head new movie production company Grunger and created a TV movie production unit, Prodigius, teaming with Barcelona’s MediaPro.

That’s the smaller picture. In the long term, Carlotti says, with €60 million ($57.1 million), DeAPlaneta sets out to create an integrated, high-quality content distribution, production and exhibition group. “We’ll start in Spain and Portugal, then Italy and then Latin America,” Carlotti says. “The Spanish language is Spain’s most powerful (production) weapon,” he adds.

But DeAPlaneta faces major strategic questions. A first is distribution. Planeta sold its 10% in Telecinco in 2001. Its DTT operator Quiero, in which it held 15%, shuttered in June.

Without tentacles in free or pay TV beyond docu feed GeoPlaneta and edutainment channel Beca TV on satcaster Via Digital, Planeta will have to take its chances on the open market or buy into distribution channels — hence its plans to purchase stakes in Spanish distribs-exhibs Lauren and Alta Films.

So far nothing has come of those conversations. DeAPlaneta has other distribution ideas, however. For Carlotti, “Our biggest contribution is digital, playing off digital convergence.”

In other words: interactivity, online, CD, DVD and broadband repurposing of DeAPlaneta’s huge stable of publications, its 700-title library or its 30,000 kidvid half-hours. Beyond DVD, making that work is a long-term prospect. That may be DeAPlaneta’s largest challenge, especially for Maurizio Carlotti himself.

Planeta has co-produced two admired films, Jose Luis Guerin’s “Work in Progress” and Julio Wallovits and Roger Gual’s “Smoking Room.” Step by step, it has upscaled its all-rights acquisitions and international co-productions, such as Roman Polanski’ s “The Pianist.”

But at times Planeta as a mother company has moved so slowly that it hasn’ t seemed to know what it wants at all. DeAPlaneta’ s bow was meant to happen at last year’s fest, then in May. That has not been Carlotti’s way.

Few execs have known their own minds better. Somewhere, the two venerable publishers and Carlotti will have to find a middle ground for peaceful expansion.

(Cecilia Zecchinelli contributed to this report.)

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