MGM crosses into Jordan

Studio pacts with Rubicon for 'Pink Panther' series

Jordanian animation shingle Rubicon has inked a strategic partnership with MGM Studios, the first part of which is a co-financing and co-producing joint venture on “Pink Panther & Pals.” Work on the 26-episode series, based on the “Pink Panther” characters as kids, will start in August with an estimated 18-month-long production. MGM will distribute the show worldwide except the Middle East, which will be handled by Rubicon.

MGM execs confirmed that “Pink Panther & Pals” has been pre-sold to a worldwide English-language cable operator, as well as a number of other English- and Spanish-speaking territories.

Other aspects of the Rubicon-MGM partnership will see Rubicon have first refusal on all future Lion animated series and the exclusive agreement for licensing and marketing MGM products in the greater Middle East, including parts of Central Asia.

Deal will also explore ways MGM can maximize its catalog of content across multiple platforms, including the development of MGM-branded theme parks, hotels and location-based entertainment in the region. Real estate company Saraya Holdings has invested in the deal. Rubicon and MGM execs have already scouted locations in Jordan, Dubai and Abu Dhabi for potential development.

MGM has also picked up U.S. rights to Rubicon’s own 13-part animated series “Ben & Izzy” as part of the agreement. The 3-D animated skein, about an American boy and an Arab boy who travel through time on an archaeological expedition, will be completed by the end of 2007.

The show is part of Rubicon CEO Randa Ayoubi’s attempts to create a world-class animated shingle in Jordan, and also offer positive, educational entertainment to auds in the West and the Arab world.

“The Middle East is an untapped market in terms of entertainment,” said Ayoubi, who spent the best part of a year in talks with MGM execs before inking the deal Sunday in Jordan. “It’s potentially a huge market in terms of the number of people and the age of the population, with so much of it skewed under the age of 25.”

Ayoubi has already started development work on a second season of “Ben & Izzy,” which will see the two characters travel to Japan and China. Next up is a 3-D feature, with work set to start on that by the end of 2008.

She has held exploratory talks with some U.S. studios about a possible co-production.

“We need good quality entertainment with good messages and good role models,” Ayoubi told Daily Variety. “It’s high time we in the Middle East told the world our stories.”