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Publisher to acquire art pic distribber

De Agostini CEO sees potential for artfilms in Europe

MILAN — Italy’s cash-rich and highly secretive publishing group De Agostini is expanding its audiovisual businesses in Italy and Spain, despite a general economic slowdown.

It aims to create an integrated, high-quality content distribution, production and exhibition group, Maurizio Carlotti, CEO of De Agostini’s audiovisual unit DeACommunications, tells Variety.

The group — founded more than 100 years ago by the De Agostini family — will acquire a Spanish art pic distributor and exhibitor by the end of the year, he says.

“We will continue investing in the content sector in Europe. We are not planning media acquisitions, but we do not exclude them either,” Carlotti says, confirming De Agostini is not interested in joining forces with Rupert Murdoch to acquire Canal Plus’ Italo pay TV operator Telepiu.

Carlotti, a former CEO of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s TV empire Mediaset and ex-director general of its Spanish TV web Tele 5, did not elaborate, but the most likely candidate for acquisition in Spain would be Alta Films, a large artfilm distributor and exhibitor.

DeAPlaneta, the recently formed joint venture between De Agostini and Spain’s Planeta, is already in talks with Alta, owned by founder and vet distrib Enrique Gonzalez Macho. Carlotti and Gonzales Macho met at the Cannes Film Fest.

De Agostini started investing in the audiovisual business two years ago when it bought a 10% stake in Italian producer Cattleya. Last April, it acquired a 54% stake in Italy’s veteran arthouse player Mikado, which controls production company Albachiara.

Created in 1984 by Luigi Musini and Roberto Cicutto, Mikado has distributed more than 300 artpics (including Zhang Yimou and Kieslowski films), controls about 80 theaters in Italy and has produced many award-winning movies.

Carlotti sees a great deal of potential for artfilms in Europe.

“In Italy, quality films have a 15% market share; in other European countries like France, their share doubles to 30%,” he says.

De Agostini is also planning to open multiscreen art theaters in Italy’s largest cities, joining forces with Lionello Cerri, a partner in Albachiara and the creator of Milan-based multi-screen theater Anteo.

(John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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