Saban, Lionsgate team for Asian pay TV

Investment will fuel expansion of Tiger Gate service

Lionsgate and Saban Capital Group aim to pounce on the fast-growing Asian TV market.

Saban Capital has joined Lionsgate as a 50-50 partner in the fledgling Tiger Gate pay TV service that Lionsgate launched with international TV vets William Pfeiffer and Paul Presburger in 2008. Tiger Gate created two themed movie channels, Thrill and Kix, in Indonesia last year and will expand both to the Hong Kong and Singapore markets later this month.

The plan is for the partners to aggressively roll out channels and packages of Lionsgate-owned film and TV content across Asia. They hope to expand to Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei within the next year and have their eye on the biggest targets of China, India, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and the Middle East. Tiger Gate may also acquire media properties in the Asian region.

Thrill features Asian horror and thriller fare, as well as Lionsgate-owned product such as the enduring “Saw” horror franchise. Kix is focused on action-oriented fare. Tiger Gate will also look to acquire locally produced material that fits the Thrill and Kix brands, and down the road it may dive into its own original production.

The business ties on Tiger Gate raise the question of whether deep-pocketed Saban Capital might be in a position to help Lionsgate fend off the hostile takeover attempt by financier Carl Icahn, who has been highly critical of management decisions by Lionsgate’s top brass. For now, insiders say Saban Capital is strictly focused on Tiger Gate but is open to the idea of doing more business together down the road.

Saban Capital had been scouting for a means to enter the Asian TV market. The partnership with a distrib that already has plenty of its own content was a no-brainer for the investment firm. The deal with Lionsgate has been in the works for about a month.

“Lionsgate’s vast portfolio of branded content, strong marketing skills and experienced leadership make them an ideal partner for this venture,” said Adam Chesnoff, Saban Capital’s prexy and chief operating officer. “Tiger Gate is off to a strong start, and we are confident that, with the addition of Lionsgate’s content and marketing and our operational experience and financial strength, this venture will achieve sustainable, long-term success.”

Lionsgate emphasized that beefing up Tiger Gate is part of a broader global strategy to mine its library assets with themed channels and services. In the U.S., Lionsgate has the FearNet horror VOD channel in partnership with Comcast Corp. and Sony. Last year it bought cabler TV Guide Network in partnership with JP Morgan’s One Equity Partners.

“We are doing what we do best — focusing on large niches that play to our strengths,” Jon Feltheimer, Lionsgate co-chairman and CEO, said in announcing the Tiger Gate deal on Monday.

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