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Financier Aver builds presence in UK

EXCLUSIVE: Financier sees scope for growth after Bank of Montreal acquisition; executive Jenna Seguin relocates to London.

Industry veterans Peter Sussman and Bradley Sherman’s Canadian-based finance outfit Aver Media, has been a significant player in backing Canadian TV since its launch in 2006.

In recent years, the company has also become one of the go-to lenders among established independent film sales companies and producers in the UK, cash-flowing sales and tax credits, and, unlike some major banks, providing sought-after gap funding for English-language, commercially minded film and TV projects.

Two weeks ago, the boutique company was acquired by the Bank of Montreal (BMO), in a deal that should strengthen Aver’s capital position and potentially bring in new clients.

UK TV tax credit

In that context, and in light of the UK’s imminent TV tax credit, Aver has recently relocated Jenna Seguin, director media lending, to the UK.

“In 2012 we realised the UK market was really a place we wanted to be so I was tasked with focusing on the territory,” Seguin told Screen.

“Things went well, so the logical next step was for me to be here on the ground with clients. With the cost of our capital coming down and the introduction of the TV tax credit, this is the perfect time for me to be here.”

Seguin will deal with client sales companies, bondsmen, key producers and post-production houses.

Backing projects

In 2012, Aver backed eight film and TV projects in the UK, representing an estimated 10-15% of the company’s business. It has worked with the likes of HanWay, WestEnd, Protagonist and Embankment, the last of whom it has agreed a $20m credit facility.

One sales executive Screen spoke to described Aver as “highly refreshing in their pragmatism” and “filmmaker friendly”, citing their ability to close finance “quickly and nimbly” as a key advantage over many other lenders.

“We’ve grown organically, from one to multiple projects each year,” said Seguin about the company’s UK operations. “We’ve allowed people to find us and we’ve built our relationships largely through word of mouth recommendations.”

Growth market

Former Grosvenor Park partner Sherman explained to Screen why Aver is attracted to the UK: “We see the UK as a significant growth market. The BMO fully supports our work in the territory.

“The UK combines the right blend of incentives and market sensibility, which allow you to bring a budget together at the right level to attract the right talent and partners”.

There is now scope to work on bigger-budgeted productions providing reward isn’t outweighed by risk.

“In theory we have unlimited capital and for the first time we have more capital available than deals” continued Sherman, who has completed hundreds of film financings for most of the significant Canadian production companies and all of the major US studios.

“If a good deal comes in the door we’ll always be in a position to finance it. But it always comes back to the first point: are we going to get our money back. We have managed risk very well and that separates us well from some other lenders.”

UK, Canada, Australia focus

While Aver has dipped into the ultra-competitive US film financing space, its focus is on its three core international markets: Canada, the UK and Australia, where company president Catherine Stuart is based.

“The Canadian, UK and Australian markets are big enough to be successful and support themselves but not so big that you can’t understand them and the players,” admits Sherman.

Market-facing, English-language projects in the mid-budget range will continue to make up the company’s core investments, and while there are no immediate plans to expand into other territories or back foreign language projects Sherman said there may be opportunities for Aver to be more active in the Canadian-French language space.

Aver Media currently comprises around 15 full-time employees. 

Sussman, one of the producers behind the CSI franchise, was previously one of the controlling shareholders of Alliance Atlantis, which sold to CanWest Global and Goldman Sachs for $2.3 billion.

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