Star aligns with Fox on film

News Corp. units launch joint venture

Twentieth Century Fox and satcaster Star are launching an Asia-wide joint venture spanning movie production, distribution and marketing.

The two News Corp. units will join forces to create Fox Star Studios and deliver slates of local-language films.

The venture will kick off in India, followed by a Greater China structure and a Southeast Asia unit. Each will report to a board made up of Fox and Star execs.

During the next six to nine months “we will be putting together a 50-50 partnership with 20th Century Fox to produce and distribute movies in Asia: local, Bollywood, Greater China, Southeast Asia,” Star topper Paul Aiello said Monday at the Asia Media Summit in Hong Kong.

The Fox Star Studios’ Indian operation is expected to be headed by Vijay Singh, Star India’s prexy for strategy and corporate development. Vivek Krishnani was recently poached from Turner Entertainment Networks to head distribution, marketing and syndication at Fox Star Studios in India.

Aiello declined to elaborate on production and financing targets, but Indian sources have reported that the Indian studio could release three films before year’s end, and 10 films in 2009.

Although Fox Star Studios’ focus is on local content, deal also may signal changes in local distribution of Hollywood movies. The new venture may end the agreement under which Warner Bros. handles Fox movies in India.

The decision to kick off in India reflects the group’s strength there as a broadcaster — despite a wave of competition, Star is India’s leading paybox and operates 17 channels — and News Corp.’s weak position in Indian cinema, the country’s dominant form of entertainment.

Star recently cleared the path for closer collaboration with Fox when it broke off its corporate relations with Indian film and TV production shingle Balaji Telefilms, with which it had commitments to launch nets in Indian languages. Star will now seek buyers for its 26% stake in Balaji.

The Indian operation will not just be limited to Bollywood’s Hindi tongue, but will produce movies in other local languages.

On a visit to India a month ago News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch announced that the company would invest $100 million launching six regional channels (Daily Variety, Aug. 5). Three are to be in the Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati languages. The first, a Bengali net, bowed Monday.

The Greater China unit, likely to be based in Hong Kong, will produce pics in Mandarin for territories including China, Taiwan, Singapore and Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong as well as Chinese populations outside Asia.

Star owns a library of 700-plus movies from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. These were previously operated under the Fortune Star banner.

While Fortune Star made attempts to produce Chinese movies, lack of consistent corporate strategy meant that few made it to the screen. Execs now see Fox Star Studios producing original material and mining the library for remakes.

Star’s broadcast footprint covers much of the Asia region from Taiwan in the north to Indonesia in the south and the Indian subcontinent in the east. Although it does not have landing rights in mainland China, Star also retains nearly a 20% stake in Phoenix Satellite, a Hong Kong-based group that does have the right to operate in China and transmits in Mandarin.

In May, News Corp. announced that Fox Filmed Entertainment would launch Fox Intl. Prods. to produce and acquire local-language films for key countries including India, Russia, Japan and Germany.

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