Company gains kudos for string of sleeper hits

Lions Gate will pour $182 million into 18 pics in fiscal ’06 — repping “our biggest commitment ever to our film slate,” CEO Jon Feltheimer said Thursday on a conference call to discuss the company’s financials for the fiscal year ended March 31.

But he told Wall Streeters the indie’s growing stable of franchises, focus on genre pics and push to fill “gaps in markets that are underserved” will keep it on steady financial ground.

He’s upbeat on the studio’s burgeoning TV biz as its latest offering “Weeds” prepares to debut on Showtime in August. It will join “Dead Zone” and “Missing” as well as “Wildfire” on ABC Family. A “Crash” series is in the works with FX with talks under way with members of the pic’s cast to reprise their roles.

A small-screen “Punisher” and “Dirty Dancing” are in the works. Two projects are in development with NBC. And there’s a new TV documentary division, Feltheimer said.Company has gained kudos for a string of sleeper hits like “Saw,” “Crash” and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”

But the stock, which had a stellar run this year, took a hit Thursday as some on Wall Street fretted about heavy spending that could keep a lid on growth.

Shares slipped 7% to $10.26.

Execs anticipated $20 million-$25 million of losses on new releases in the current fiscal year — but said that would swing to income of some $80 million in fiscal ’07.

Asked about the status of the domestic DVD market — which has recently shifted from a fountain of joy to a cause of concern among investors — Feltheimer said “it’s getting a lot more crowded … We see more films, more big films coming to the market (and) a limited amount of floor space.

“We’ve trained the consumer to have a shorter attention span — with new big titles coming out week after week,” he added. But, he noted, the company is “scrambling” to fill orders on “Diary.”

In the numbers released Wednesday, studio doubled revenue and swung to a $20 million profit.

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