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Sony Launches Its Own Theatrical Distributors in Southeast Asia (EXCLUSIVE)

Sony Pictures Entertainment has terminated a longstanding theatrical-releasing joint venture with Disney in Southeast Asia, moving instead to launch distributors of its own in four countries.

Sony is launching new Sony Pictures Releasing units in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Those join a unit in the Philippines carved out earlier, in February, from the joint venture with Disney.

Announced by Brett Hogg, senior VP of international distribution at SPE, the moves see some personnel transferring from the joint venture and others in new positions. In Singapore, Robert Crockett will continue as managing director, overseeing Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. In Malaysia, Simon Foo becomes the AGM/Country Manager for Malaysia and will continue reporting to Crockett. Foo will take the day-to-day lead of operations in Malaysia in addition to his distribution and sales responsibilities.

In Thailand, “James” Rachot “James” Dhiraputra returns to the company to become Thailand managing director, along with Dujdao Promobol, Thailand executive director of marketing. The pair last week held a Buddhist merit ceremony to give SPR Thailand its official launch, and to present the studio’s forward slate to exhibitors.

Thai media quoted Dhiraputra as saying he is targeting $24 million (THB800 million) of gross revenues from the 19 movies. It was unclear if the $8 million (THB265) from “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the first major SPE title released under the new banner, is part of that figure. “Homecoming” is expected to be the highest grossing SPE title in Thailand.

Sony’s joint venture with Disney was originally established in 1997 as a way of minimizing infrastructure costs in the then-small Southeast Asian market. It also helped to maximize the studios’ marketing and negotiating firepower in a region with oligopolistic – and often vertically integrated – exhibition groups.

SPE’s go-it-alone strategy reflects an optimism that the individual markets within the region will continue to grow, despite patchy economic growth in Thailand, continuing high levels of piracy in Malaysia and Singapore, and competition from online streaming services.

Expansion by exhibitors into outlying provinces in Thailand and Malaysia could mean that the theatrical business grows at a pace faster than the countries’ overall economies. That in turn would allow SPE to increase the number of titles per year that it releases theatrically. Dhiraputra said that SPE aims to release 20 films per year in Thailand, where last year’s overall box office hit $140 million (THB4.6 billion).

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