Participant looks to expand

Cannes Film Festival 2012

Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media may be riding a wave of successes, but the production and financing shingle won’t be spending too much time resting as it sets its sights on expansion in the international and TV arenas.

“We don’t want to just be a U.S.-centric company,” says CEO Jim Berk. “On the international front we aspire to open up in one territory a year from 2013 and are keen to have an expanded presence on a global front.”

The outfit, launched by eBay co-founder Skoll in 2004 with the remit for making commercially viable and socially relevant pics, also made its first foreign-language film investment in February, financing Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “No,” from Chilian helmer Pablo Larrain. Pic will unspool in Directors’ Fortnight.

Berk says that Participant is already developing an international development team and is the process of actively looking for partners in territories across the globe to set up joint ventures for the production and finance of local films in local markets.

“We’re looking for partners that have local and regional credibility,” says Berk. “The worst thing you can do as an American company is walk right in and expect you can do it by yourself. Our interest is to partner with media companies that have expertise in those areas.

“Partners bring something into the table – we’re not going into a foreign market without a local partner because that makes no sense at all.”

Berk says the company, which already formed a five-year $250 million joint venture fund with Image Nation Abu Dhabi back in 2008, has particular interest in expanding to Europe, India, China and Latin America.

“We’re always looking for entertainment that inspires and is about some kind of social issue,” Berk says. “So first and foremost, we’re looking for good stories that have a regional element and are not necessarily global. We want to look at product that is relevant in specific territories and if it plays beyond that, even better.”

The boffo B.O. and kudos love garnered by “The Help,” which it backed with DreamWorks (after many studios passed on the project), helped raise Participant’s profile. Pic took $206.7 million at the worldwide box office and spent four weeks at the No. 1 one slot in the U.S. before being knocked off by another Participant pic, “Contagion,” which has taken $135.5 million to date. It now has ‘The Best Exotci Marigold Hotel” in theaters. Pic has grossed some $40 million worldwide so far.

The company, which was one of Summit Entertainment’s investors, cashed out on the Lionsgate/Summit deal for an undisclosed sum back in January.

Participant, after hiring former IFC and Sundance topper Evan Shapiro to lead its TV arm, bought an equity stake in Cineflix Media, repping its first major push into television.

Berk indicates that the company plans to double in size over the next year is it moves more heavily into the TV world.

“We aspire to be a global media company operating across all platforms and we want to do it through partners and international fare,” he says. “And Jeff’s (Skoll) vision was to set out to make the world a better place. So let’s swing for the fences.”

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