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Imagine Sets $100 Million TV Financing Venture With Hong Kong’s TVB (EXCLUSIVE)

Imagine Entertainment has set a $100 million television production financing venture with a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Television Broadcasts Limited. The joint venture promises to expand Imagine’s TV operations on a global scale and allow the company to retain ownership of its content for the first time.

Brian Grazer, who runs Imagine Entertainment with partner Ron Howard, said the funding earmarked for TV content will open up vast opportunities for the company that is already bustling with production. The deal took more than eight months to hammer out.

“This gives us the money and flexibility to align ourselves with ‘A talent’ and to co-finance series for any platform,” Grazer told Variety. “It gives us the ability to own much more of the negative than we have before. We are trying to adapt our businesses to the new world order and how content is created. There are so many different applications for all of the things we want to do.”

The TVB pact is the latest deal designed to broaden Imagine’s operations from a focus on film and TV productions for U.S. based studios and networks into a worldwide player in a range of media. In February 2016, Imagine received a $100 million investment from Raine Group.

The TV co-financing pact establishes a 50-50 joint venture between Imagine and TVB Venture, a unit of Television Broadcasts Limited. The parent company is a publicly traded firm that owns broadcast TV channels in Hong Kong and a busy production studio and distribution operation. Imagine was introduced to TVB by Li Ruigang, chairman of CMC Capital Partners who is vice chairman and a board member of TVB. Li’s CMC is connected to Imagine through the Raine investment and a major investor in TVB parent Young Lion. The TVB deal with Imagine is notable at a time when the pace of Chinese investment coin flowing into Hollywood-based businesses has slowed.

“We could not have hoped for a more perfect collaboration than with Imagine Entertainment, a company that is at the forefront of TV programming,” said Charles Chan, chairman of TVB. “It will provide us with a new opportunity for co-operation with a leading film and TV production company in the U.S. With our strong distribution network, we can help bring TV programs produced under the joint venture to the vast markets in Greater China.”

Said Li: “I have known Brian and Ron, whose creative talent is unrivaled in the industry, for years. This partnership would bring the best creative resource and industry expertise to TVB which will be of significance to TVB’s growth strategy in the years to come. In addition, TVB’s distribution capability will improve the presence of premium international content in regional markets.”

The funding available through the TVB venture will make it possible for Imagine to develop and in some cases finance its own series. And the partnership opens up distribution operations in the world’s largest television market — China — and other territories.

“We absolutely want to create a global bridge to countries like China,” Grazer said.

Francie Calfo, president of Imagine Television, said the TVB funding will allow the company to pursue projects from the creative inspiration first rather than focus on whether they have a shot at selling the project to a network. That should be a big selling point to prospective creative partners.

“It makes us a really great destination for talent,” Calfo told Variety. “We can be as creative as we can with our ideas and in finding the place where it is best served. That’s a freedom and a flexility that will be a win for all of us.”

Charlie Corwin, who joined Imagine earlier this year as CEO, said the TVB deal was key to the larger effort driven by the Raine investment to transform the company. Imagine’s TV roster at present includes Fox’s “Empire” and the “Genius” franchise for National Geographic Television.

“This company has been living in a world of producer economics,” Corwin told Variety. “Now we’re working to build a world of both producer and studio economics. We’re creative producers who can offer a full sweep of studio resources.”

Grazer and Corwin emphasized the importance of finally being able to build a library of shows that Imagine controls — or at least owns a more significant stake than the profit participation definitions of its past deals with studios and networks. Dealmaking will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no doubt that Imagine will continue to partner with the largest media players. But the TVB money is designed to give the company more heft in the haggle over deal terms and more options to find the right arrangement for its shows.

“We’ve spent the last 20 years doing shows for other people,” Grazer said. “We’ll now have the ability to benefit from the long-tail value of our own library.”

Raine Group served as Imagine’s financial advisor on the deal. O’Melveny & Myers and Ziffren Brittenham served as legal advisors.

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