Int'l indie gains foothold in U.S.

Paris-based Zodiak Entertainment, unknown in the international TV business two years ago, has finalized its long-expected acquisition of U.K. indie RDF Media.

Acquisition gives Zodiak an entry point in to the U.S., where RDF’s stateside operation has established a thriving business in unscripted programming with such series such as “Wife Swap.”

The deal, involving a payment of around £150 million ($219 million) in cash and shares, makes the new entity, with annual revenues estimated at E500 million ($610 million), arguably the third-biggest television production company in the world.

Acquisition comes as several international companies continue to kick the tires of U.S. production companies as well. European shingles — many of which look to emulate the model of mega-congloms FremantleMedia and Endemol — have been looking at U.S. indie outfits in order to gain a foothold in this marketplace.

France’s Banijay acquired Bunim-Murray Prods. (“The Real World”) earlier this year (Daily Variety, March 26).

RDF founder and CEO David Frank will be CEO of the new outfit, which looks set to scale up its activities in the U.S., taking on new staff at its Los Angeles offices.

“This is a perfect fit for both parties and will significantly enhance our U.S. business.” said Frank, who launched RDF in 1993.

He added: “It works strategically for both of us because Zodiak is a pan-European company with very little presence in the U.S. and the U.K., specializing in fiction.

“RDF is well established in the U.K. and the U.S., where we are known for our factual and factual entertainment shows. The deal gives us greater confidence to establish ourselves in the fiction arena,” he said.

RDF USA, which will have access to fare produced and distributed by Zodiak’s companies in Scandinavia, France, Italy and Spain, will now refer to itself as “RDF USA, part of the Zodiak Entertainment Group.”

The U.S. arm of RDF is making a local adaptation of the U.K. high-concept drama “Being Human” for Syfy, and an English-language version of Swedish hit pic “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is in the cards, produced in tandem with a U.S. studio.

RDF’s upcoming fare also includes “Secret Millionaire,” which originally ran on Fox but is now a part of ABC’s fall lineup.

RDF vet Grant Mansfield was named CEO of RDF USA in January, replacing original CEO Chris Coelen, who first launched RDF’s U.S. operations in 2006. Natalka Znak serves as RDF USA’s chief creative officer.

Zodiak owns businesses in more than 15 European markets, including France (Marathon), Spain and Italy (Magnolia), and Scandinavia, Russia and Northern Europe (Zodiak Television). Its U.K. assets include Diverse and Bullsye Production.

The new Zodiak will be 71% owned by De Agostini, and 29% owned by Zodiak’s management team and venture capital firm Cyrte Investments.

RDF’s U.K. shingles include RDF Television, Touchpaper Television and IWC Media.

Zodiak is headed by Italian media giant De Agostini chief executive Lorenzo Pellicioli, though his work at the parent company means he focuses on Zodiak part-time only.

In a statement, he said: “With the acquisition of RDF Media Group, the consolidation process of Zodiak is completed. Zodiak, with its strong international footprint and its presence in all entertainment formats, is today one of the main content producers in the world.”

Some job losses are anticipated at RDF’s U.K. distribution business because of overlap with Zodiak’s activities.

Frank said once the integration process was complete, he would be scouting for new companies to buy, especially in territories where neither Zodiak or RDF has a presence.

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