Cinemas add to mix at Russian distrib

Prof-Media acquires 50% plus one share in CP

MOSCOW — Russia has its first integrated production-distrib-exhib company, after media investor Prof-Media confirmed Nov. 1 that it had acquired a controlling stake in leading producer and distribber Central Partnership (CP).

Prof-Media, part of oligarch Vladimir Potanin’s Interros investment holding, has acquired 50% plus one share in CP — the territory’s biggest such deal to date. Though financial details were not disclosed, likely investment was estimated by local analysts at not far short of the $100 million mark.

“It is a strategic purchase, given the increase of activity in the entertainment sector,” says Rafael Akopov, director general of Prof-Media. He stressed that CP was the most diversified player in the market, spanning film and TV series production and distribution of indie pics and its own films — as well as the most transparent, using international accounting standards.

Prof-Media’s major media assets are in print and radio media, but it’s also Russia’s most rapidly developing exhibitor through its Cinema Park brand. In addition to two Moscow plexes, by the end of 2006 it’s skedded to open another ten plexes in Moscow, St. Petersburg and outlying regions, bringing its screens to more than 100. Projected investment will be above $115 million.

“The battle for control of local, Russian content will prove crucial in the future… and CP is the largest player in the market,” says Akopov.

The deal gives CP’s director general Ruben Dishdishyan a more secure way to expand his production slate than previous bank credit arrangements.

The distrib has a 12.3% share of local theatrical box office, which made up almost 28% of company’s revenue last year.

Theatrical releases for CP this year have included more than $10.1 million in returns from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and $8.2 million for Alexei Sidorov’s local “Shadow Boxing,” which the company produced, and which has a sequel slated for release in 2007.

Its biggest ongoing project is Nikolai Lebedev’s “Wolfhound,” a Slavic fantasy actioner budgeted at more than $8 million, which Dishdishyan expects to present in completed form at Cannes next year.

CP has 38 film projects in development, as well as 28 TV series, which run to around 200 hours of programming.

It’s not the only field in which Dishdishyan is stretching existing limits. CP is also moving into acquiring major international indie product not only for Russia and CIS distribution — but also full rights for all Eastern European territories.

First release deals will be in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but rights concerned cover all adjoining territories.

In short, the Russians are coming — and they may be set to change the face of markets far from their own borders.

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