Arts Alliance acquires Hart Sharp

Distribution unit scores video company

In a notable trans-Atlantic pact, burgeoning U.K. digital distribution firm Arts Alliance Media has acquired Gotham-based Hart Sharp Video, the distrib best known for “Super Size Me.”

Neither party would disclose financial details of the deal, which closed Tuesday.

Hart Sharp had been due for a transformation for several months after the dissolution of the producing partnership between John Hart and Jeffrey Sharp. It will now be called Arts Alliance America.

Hart and Sharp have divested of their video stakes and are not involved in the new entity. Hart launched film and legit production shingle Evamere this year.

Joe Amodei, Hart Sharp Video’s chief, will continue as prexy and report to Arts Alliance CEO Howard Kiedaisch.

“I had taken Hart Sharp about as far as I could with what I had to work with,” Amodei said. “Arts Alliance will recapitalize the business, and we’ll be able to release some bigger films and co-productions.”

Since arriving at the London-based company two years ago after stints at Universal Pictures Intl., Polygram and Orion, Kiedaisch has spearheaded an aggressive push into several digital arenas. Arts Alliance is the largest shareholder in Lovefilm, a popular Netflix-like service it owned until a 2006 merger with Video Island.

Arts Alliance also won a bid to operate the U.K. Film Council’s 240-screen digital exhibition network, said to be Europe’s largest.

Thomas Hoegh, scion of a wealthy Norwegian shipping family, founded Arts Alliance and also sat on the board of Hart Sharp, in which he was a major investor. While discussions about a partnership or acquisition were held with other companies over the past six months, Amodei said the relationships played a role.

Amodei has 20-plus years of homevid experience. He founded Hart Sharp Video in 2003 and has also worked at USA, Turner and Live Entertainment. He also got to know Kiedaisch when both worked at Polygram in the mid-1990s.

The new distrib’s day-to-day business will remain the same, mainly DVD releases. About 50% of its sell-through revenue comes from sports titles such as “Faith Rewarded — The Historic Season of the 2004 Red Sox.”

By leveraging relationships with filmmakers such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” shipped millions of units, Arts Alliance America hopes to continue making headway in theatricals. Under a joint producing venture with Spurlock, the company will release “Chalk,” a mockumentary about teaching, on Friday at L.A.’s Nuart. Pic will bow at the Landmark Sunshine in Gotham on June 8.

The digital emphasis of Arts Alliance will energize its new American unit, Amodei said. Many titles, for example, are already available for download through existing U.S. services such as Movielink, but a company-run download site is in the testing phase.

Arts Alliance has gained some traction online by offering downloads of films from Universal, Sony, Warner Bros., Fox and other major outfits.

(Leo Barraclough in London contributed to this report.)

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