Two new Canadian distribution outfits - one based in Montreal, one in Toronto - are emerging from the executive suites, libraries and deals of two old companies: an ailing TVA International and the defunct Blackwatch Releasing.
Launched this week, Montreal-based Incendo Media begins life with several significant TV distribution deals, including a joint-venture with 20th Century Fox's Canadian television arm that holds the rights to all Fox programming, including Ally McBeal, Malcolm in the Middle, The X-Files, The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Canada. The company is negotiating a distribution deal with HBO that should be sealed in the next few days. In addition, the company will distribute DreamWorks pictures theatrically in Quebec.
The deals were previously in the hands of TVA International, the former employer of Incendo founders Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau. Both have family connections to Astral Media, the country's leading pay-per-view and speciality TV operator. As such, Astral will be one of Incendo's principle customers.
Stephen Greenberg is the son of Astral's founder, the late Harold Greenberg and, through his family, holds a significant equity stake in Astral. Bureau is son of Astral chairman Andre Bureau. The two sons worked in Astral's production and distribution operation until 1996 when Astral sold off that operation to concentrate on its core broadcasting business. Both executives moved to the new owners, Montreal-based Coscient Group, and stayed with the operation, as it changed hands through a series of acquisitions and mergers. Its latest incarnation, TVA International (TVAI), was acquired last year by communications giant Quebecor through its purchase of cable operator Groupe Videotron.
Greenberg, who was president of distribution for TVAI, left the Quebecor fold in August following a failed attempt at a management buyout of the film library and distribution deals. He has now taken those deals -- as well as his sister, marketing executive Anna-Sue Greenberg - with him and effectively hollowed out TVAI.
Bureau, who handled international sales, left TVAI in January of this year when the company decided to get out of the production business. He founded JB Media, with the backing of Greenberg, to produce films in the $2.5m-$3m budget range. Although hindered by threat of a SAG strike, JB Media has produced two features this year - The Rendering, starring Shannon Doherty and Peter Outerbridge, and Guilt By Association, starring Mercedes Reuhl - and plans to increase that output to five to 10 films in 2002. Financing of each movie will come from pre-sales or equity investments from Astral and TVAI (due to contractual obligation) in Canada, Hearst Entertainment and Court TV in the US, the DeAngelis Group of Italy and the Victory Media Group of Germany.
Meanwhile, after only three months, industry veteran Andy Myers has left start-up distribution outfit ThinkFilm to pursue another Canadian distribution play. Myers has partnered with his former Blackwatch Releasing colleague Yves Dion. The two plan to announce the launch of their company early in the New Year. Myers helped engineer the acquisition of the library of insolvent Blackwatch Releasing by ThinkFilm, founded by former Lions Gate Films president Jeff Sackman and launched at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.