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Oz’s Becker posts annual loss again

$2.7 mil is 'substantial improvement' over '98 results

SYDNEY — For the second year in a row, and only the second time in its history, Oz film and TV producer-distrib Becker Entertainment has once again posted a significant operating loss, A$4.2 million ($2.7 million).

A disappointing result, the loss was nevertheless described by directors as a “substantial improvement” on last year’s $4.14 million deficit.

While TV and film sales revenues were up 25% from $25.8 million to $32.3 million for the year, Becker execs attributed the group’s overall poor performance to a combination of soft international TV and film distribution, plus mixed fortunes at the Australian box office.

In particular, Oz arthouse hits such as “Waking Ned Devine,” “Happiness” and “Three Seasons” were simply unable to offset much more expensive mainstream, star-driven flops such as “Wrongfully Accused” and “A Simple Plan.”

Raising capital

Responding to its fluctuating fortunes, the group rose strategic capital during the year with the Becker family, the Australasian Media & Communications Fund and Television & Media Services (TMS), resulting in the addition of 600 TMS titles to the Becker film library, plus the development of new screens with the Dendy Quays cinemas project in Sydney and a half interest in the Melbourne Kino Cinemas complex.

Despite the poor results for the fiscal year, the outlook for Becker Entertainment is now said to be much brighter, largely because of improved second half-year trading and the breakout July indie Oz gangster comedy hit pic “Two Hands,” which has already taken in about $3 million.

Banking on ‘Blair’

Hopeful Becker execs are also looking ahead to the expected success of U.S. blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project,” slated for a late December release, and the delivery of a second Mutual Films package, including major potential marquee titles such as “Man on the Moon,” with Jim Carrey and Danny DeVito, and “Isn’t She Great,” with Bette Midler and John Cleese.

The outlook for TV production is also reputedly much improved. The group is currently at work on its largest and most advanced television development slate ever, not to mention a roster of Becker shows already in production, including entertainment magazine “E! News,” sports mag “PGA Golf,” kidvid “Download” and two versions of contemporary music show “Ground Zero” for the Oz and New Zealand markets.