Distributors face price pressure, rising costs

Spain’s B.O. grew 9% in 2009, turning around a four-year negative trend and delivering an all-time record of e675 million ($900 million).

For indies the news was even better: They grossed $261.2 million, up 18% vs. 2008.

Spain’s top non-studio box office hit, Aurum Prods.-distributed “New Moon,” made $26.6 million, nearly 10% of total indie biz in 2009.

“Theatrical is working well, but it’s a risky bet,” says Luis Ortiz, VP at boutique Tripictures.

Distributors have several additional concerns, and the state of the TV biz is one of them. “Until Spanish free-to-air broadcasters clarify the future, it’s not worth buying more movies,” says Luis de Val, Wide Pics CEO.

In December, Mediaset-controlled broadcaster Telecinco and Prisa’s channel Cuatro merged, kicking off a deep consolidation in Spain’s TV market. Now, with fewer TV operators, distributors fear that broadcasters will gain too much bargaining power on future film deals.

Indies also sense uncertainty at pubcaster TVE, which is restricting international film acquisitions after a government-imposed ad nix that began on Jan. 1.

TV consolidation also puts pressure on the indie companies’ P&A costs, with television advertising prices rising as much as 25% through March.

And while Spain’s burgeoning niche DTT channels are buying catalog movie titles, film acquisitions budgets are limited. Prisa paybox Canal Plus, a major revenue source a decade ago, now only cherry-picks films from indies.

On the DVD front, piracy caused a dramatic sales drop of 34% in 2009. Many felt the blow. Zeta group’s film arm On Pics has downgraded distribution to focus on production; Barcelona-based Filmax has applied for protection from creditors.

International sales agents have bitten the bullet on Spanish prices. “Sales agents now charge Spanish distributors 3%-3.5% of a big film’s budget; some years ago we paid 4%-4.5% for the same title,” says Jorge Vazquez, Aurum general manager.

“Spain is now the most complicated country in Europe, and prices are in line with that,” says Enrique Gonzalez-Kuhn, Alta Films acquisitions head.

Several arthouse players such as Alta are looking for bigger titles with crossover potential.

In Berlin, artpics buyers pre-bought aggressively instead of waiting for completed pics at Cannes. One explanation is increasing competition for small films from new distribs.

“With a lighter cost structure, and factoring in the real value of DVD and TV rights, you could find business opportunities in Spanish distribution,” says Adolfo Blanco, founder of new artpic company A Contracorriente.

THE TOP PLAYERS

Aurum Producciones
Spain’s No. 1 indie distributor since 2007. Acquired by Canada-based Alliance Films in 2004, with synergies in multi-territory acquisitions. Handles 20 theatrical pics annually. Well connected to Spanish broadcasters, such as Antena 3, with which it successfully co-promoted “New Moon.” Has entered TV movie acquisition. Next challenge: distributing Spanish pics. New pickups include “Riddick 3.”

Tripictures
Vet boutique distribbery, majority-owned by publishing group Vocento since mid-2006. With New Line output deal over, Tripictures has returned to the international table, but cautiously. Tripictures’ star-driven recent pickups include “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec” and U.S. remake “L.O.L.: Laughing Out Loud.”

Wide Pictures
Spain’s most aggressive mainstream buyer since 2008, when it was founded by distrib vet Luis de Val, former Manga Films CEO. Initial $27 million investment, often in big U.S. pics. Launches some 20 titles a year. Bookings and collections deals with Universal, Aurum and DeAPlaneta. DVD pact with Emon on new releases. Upcoming: “Brooklyn’s Finest,” “Two Lovers” and “The Informers.”

DeAPlaneta
Cash-rich distributor, co-owned by publishing groups Planeta and DeAgostini, plus Antena 3. Takes big-budget indie fare. Main 2009 hit: Spanish CGI-animated kidpic “Planet 51″ ($13.5 million). In 2008 inked with Emon the outsourcing of its huge DVD catalog. Among 2010 releases: “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Killers,” “Astro Boy.”

Vertice Cine
New mainstream company, fruit of merged distribs Notro Films and Manga Films. Owned by media-tech giant Vertice 360. Plans around 15 theatrical releases for 2010, including “The Switch,” “The Marc Pease Experience” and “Oceans.” Main hit to date: “Shutter Island” ($11.3 million). New titles: “Splice” and “Chloe.”

Alta Films
Spain’s top arthouse distributor-exhibitor; buys strong upscale European pics. Released 23 feature films last year. Highest performing pic: “The Secret in Their Eyes” ($7.3 million). Via a pic-by-pic theatrical distribution deal with film giant Mediapro, will release Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” Recent pickups: “Nowhere Boy,” “Wuthering Heights” and “2 Days in New York.”

Golem Distribucion
One of Spain’s main arthouse buyers, with exhibition interests. Releases some 18 films a year — often fest winners or name auteur movies. Pre-bought very aggressively at Berlin’s EFM. This means bigger risks but saves money, says general manager Josetxo Moreno. Recent pickups: Golden Bear-winning drama “Honey,” “The Tree” and “The Revenge.”

Karma Films
Created by g.m. Miguel Angel Perez in 2003. Traditionally buys left-of-field/out-there pics and religious docus. Now acquiring bigger-budget titles. Releases in 2010 include “City of Life and Death” and “The Refuge.” New buys: Mexican thriller “Backyard,” Colombian Javier Fuentes-Leon’s “Contracorriente” and French drama “Dog Pound.”

A Contracorriente Films
Popular arthouse film distribution-production shingle, launched in February by vet exec Adolfo Blanco. Catalonia-based company reunites original exec team and shareholders at Notro. Aims to handle six to eight films a year. Icelandic thriller “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” marks theatrical debut in April. First acquisitions includes “The Cove,” “Mao’s Last Dancer,” “Easy Money.”

Emon
Powerful DVD distribbery headed by chairman Jose Escola, former DeAPlaneta CEO. Growing strategy: joint film acquisitions with other indies. Biggest deal to date: co-buying with Vertigo Films Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy adaptation, sharing costs and benefits. First part of Italian Federico Moccia’s trilogy “Sorry I Want to Marry You” marked company’s solo theatrical debut April 30. Emon will handle 14-20 films a year, including joint-venture titles. May 28 launches chiller “The Crazies” and, with Vertigo, Danny Boon starrer “Micmacs.”

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