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Oz distribs jostle for pix

10 groups competing for product and playdates

SYDNEY — Competition among distribs in Australia is set to become even fiercer as video distrib Magna Pacific has begun acquiring and releasing pics theatrically and New Zealand-based Rialto Entertainment has opened an office in Melbourne as it ramps up its slate.

This means more than 10 distribs are competing for product and playdates in a market where around 75% of the B.O. is controlled by the U.S. majors.

The competition doesn’t faze Magna Pacific exec director Leon Coningham, who points to his firm’s strong cash flow and its strength as a DVD distrib, supplying product to more than 6,000 stores in Oz.

Magna estimates its video revenues account for around 7% of that burgeoning business and believes there is plenty of room to grow as DVD hardware penetration is 58%.

Magna is keen to acquire 8-12 theatrical pics per year, mostly genre titles, after the amicable end of its joint venture with fellow indie Becker, for which Becker bought the films and the two shared P&A costs. That split happened after Becker and Magna agreed to sell back the shares each held in the other.

Magna’s first cinema release, rock ‘n’ roll doc “Festival Express,” bowed Nov. 18, and for 2005 the firm has collared U.S. pics “Just Friends,” a romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart, “Boy Eats Girl,” “Bubba Ho-Tep,” and Kiwi-lensed thriller “Perfect Creatures.”

With the move into the theatrical biz, Magna recently tapped Brendan Maher, formerly group programming manager of Brisbane-based Australian Multiplex Cinemas, as national sales manager, exhibition and television.

Rialto Entertainment is looking to bump up its releases to 12-14 annually after averaging 8-10 in the past few years, according to chief exec Kelly Rogers. Earlier this month Rialto hired Mike Vile as general manager of its Australasian ops to help facilitate its expansion.

Rialto, which has 22 screens in New Zealand in partnership with Village Sky Cinemas, aims to enter exhibition in Oz, either as a joint venture with an existing operator or by building on undeveloped sites.

Although Australia is well served with upscale cinemas, Rogers notes most that play crossover product and he sees a niche for the quality Rialto brand. He aims to grow to 20-30 screens here over the next 4-5 years.

At the recent American Film Market, Rialto collared “The Machinist,” “Mean Creek,” “The Queen of Sheba’s Pearls” and “Last Days,” augmenting its 2005 slate which already included “The Woodsman” and “Maria Full of Grace.”

Rogers is working on plans to enter distribution in the U.S. by the middle of next year and the U.K by late 2005 and is mulling the best way of gaining a foothold in those territories.

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