Southern Star expanding

SYDNEY — Just two months after its friendly takeover of U.K. film and TV producer-distribber Circle Communications, Oz’s Southern Star Group is considering two further overseas acquisitions worth an estimated A$25 million-A$30 million ($18.5 million-$22.2 million).

Exec chairman Neil Balnaves told shareholders at Tuesday’s annual general meeting — the company’s first since its IPO and Australian Stock Exchange listing in October — that the company had little choice but to look overseas if it is to match its impressive growth rates of recent years.

Balnaves said the first acquisition would be similar in size to the $16 million buy of Circle, which includes theater, film and TV production concerns, a co-venture with top crime writer Lynda LaPlante and adds 1,000 program hours to Star’s 2,350.

The first new acquisition may be announced within six months, while the second is expected to be about half that size. Star is unlikely to issue further equity to fund the acquisitions.

Balnaves said the company would focus its future growth strongly on Europe. Circle, he stressed, will be developed as a sister company to Southern Star, rather than a branch office, and could serve as a launching pad for aggressive expansion into Germany and Italy (Circle has a 40% interest in Italo production company Cattleya).

Star currently is negotiating a joint venture with the Chinese government to produce and distribute natural history programming. Such fare, Balnaves said, will be a major source of growth for Star, capitalizing on Circle subsid Oxford Scientific.

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