EuropaCorp tunes in TV

Besson's mini-major buys stake in production shingle Cipango

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has acquired Gallic TV-film production house Cipango.

EuropaCorp will pay in cash for 75% of Cipango securities — stock, debt — with a commitment to raise that stake to total ownership within four years. No price was given for the acquisition.

The purchase places Besson’s mini-major in the top league of Gallic drama producers.

With annual sales of 14.6 million ($19.6 million), Cipango ranks as the 7th biggest drama producer in France in terms of hours produced.

And like EuropaCorp, Cipango is internationally aggressive, producing English-language miniseries “X111,” starring Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer. Mini aired on NBC in 2009.

And, like Besson, it favors genre drama: Cipango other most celebrated series is “Les Bleus: Premier Pas dans la Police,” broadcaster M6’s long-running rookie cop skein.

Move is a sign of the times. One of Europe’s most successful international film producers, EuropaCorp has relied to a far larger extent than most companies on its success in the U.S market.

As the recent Cannes Mip TV market radically underscored, with a contraction in U.S. speciality film distribution, there is now a far larger U.S. appetite for high-end TV dramas made from abroad than for most foreign movies.

The purchase also marks one large answer to EuropaCorp’s weakness as a publically listed firm: the volatility of its revenues, driven by irregular movie releases, which befuddles investors and stock markets.

The acqusition of Cipango will generate regular income which will make the Group’s activity easier to read,” said Europacorp CEO Jean-Julien Baronnet.

The move on Cipango comes as EuropCorp has warned markets that, while revenues for the 2009-10 financial year should rise around 30%, profit margins look to be down, due to underperforming film releases and “an increasingly difficult environment for international sales.”

In a vote of confidence from financial markets, however, EuropaCorp has just established a new revolving line of credit worth $134.5 million, syndicated out to eight European banks.

It has also appointed Jean de Rivieres, former CEO at Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures France, to head up a newly created cinema division.

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