Entertainment One makes power play

Film and TV outfit acquires four companies

MONTREAL — Think of it as Alliance Communications, the sequel. When rapidly expanding Canuck film and TV outfit Entertainment One announced July 7 it was snapping up three Canadian TV companies and one film distributor, many in the domestic industry couldn’t help wondering if the country was finally getting its first big integrated film and TV producer-distrib since Alliance got out of that business at the beginning of this decade.

Throughout the ’90s, Alliance ruled the roost in the Great White North, dominating film distribution, TV sales and homegrown film and TV production. But after the merger that created Alliance Atlantis in the late ’90s, the company shifted its focus to expanding its pay TV empire. It was that business that enticed Winnipeg-based CanWest Global to buy Alliance last year.

And Canada has been left without a major film and TV player, with the TV scene dominated instead by smaller shingles. Enter Entertainment One, which has become a major force not only smallscreen production, but also has consolidated its position in the film world.

Entertainment One acquired two TV producers, Blueprint Entertainment and Barna-Alper Prods., plus TV distrib Oasis Intl. At the same time, Entertainment One snapped up Maximum Films, the distrib set up by veteran pic mogul Robert Lantos last year.

Entertainment One has acquired almost all the top execs from these companies as part of the deal. Blueprint’s John Morayniss becomes CEO of the Television Group at Entertainment One, Laszlo Barna takes over as president of television production, and Oasis topper Peter Emerson has been tapped prexy of international TV distribution.

“What’s interesting is that it’s the reuniting of the old Alliance bunch,” says Ian Morrison from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an industry lobby group. “It’s interesting because it creates a critical mass of talent and capacity.”

Patrice Theroux, president of the company’s filmed entertainment division, used to run Alliance’s feature-film operations. Morayniss is a former Alliance exec who headed its U.S. television division, and Lantos, who joins the Entertainment One board and was an investor in the four companies bought, was the founder and former CEO of Alliance.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of actors union ACTRA, says the consolidation of these four companies under the Entertainment One roof will help Canadians compete internationally.

“I think it’s better to have larger companies to get Canadian product out there,” Waddell says. “It’s necessary to have a couple of larger players.”

The timing is propitious for Entertainment One’s expansion into television given that Canadian shows are suddenly enjoying a higher-profile in the U.S. The Toronto-produced cop show “Flashpoint,” which bowed July 11 on CBS, is the first Canuck series to play in primetime on a U.S. network since “Due South” in 1994. Also on its way is another Toronto production, “The Listener” to NBC.

Blueprint’s Morayniss is hoping the Entertainment One deal will help other domestic shows draw heat south of the Canadian border.

“I think Canada has been missing a strong, well-capitalized company,” Morayniss says. “We can use our relationships to create more awareness of young Canadian writer-producers. We want to bring Canadian programming into the U.S.”

Morayniss, who hails from Toronto, moved to Los Angeles with Alliance 12 years ago, ran its U.S. TV operation and then watched as that company got out of TV production. That’s when he left to set up Blueprint. So is Entertainment One an Alliance redux?

“I wouldn’t call it Alliance part two,” Morayniss says. “But is it going to be a dominant producer, distributor and financial entity? Yes. I believe the midsize niche is not a good place to be. A lot of people have been sniffing around the Canadian market, but what’s been missing in Canada is that big Canadian player.”

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