Celestial Pictures, the Hong Kong upstart which owns the Shaw Bros library of Chinese classic movies, has put in place a raft of key distribution partnerships across Asia.

The move represents the group's first substantial revenues streams after the start-up phase and enable it to boost the catalogue's visibility ahead of its TV channel launch.

Celestial boss William Pfeiffer and Gordon Cheung, executive vice president of distribution, has signed multi-year home entertainment licences with Deltamac for Taiwan, United Home Entertainment for Thailand, Videovan Entertainment industry for Singapore and Malaysia and Cipta Mitra Video Nusa for Indonesia. The company expects to sign similar licence deals for China, Korea and Japan in the next couple of weeks.

The 760 title deals cover all the Shaw library as well as a number of newer titles. Many of the Shaw titles have never been on video and most have not been on TV since the 1980s.

"These are all top of the range distributors, the kind that release Hollywood studio product and do normally handle Chinese library titles," said Pfeiffer.

Breaking new ground in Asian video distribution, Celestial has secured simultaneous release of the films in batches of 10-12 titles and price co-ordination in order to combat video piracy and parallel imports.

Celestial has so far restored and re-mastered more than 100 films and is currently completing 15 more per month. It expects to release 150 titles via the partnerships in the first year.

In its native Hong Kong it has struck a straight distribution deal with Intercontinental Video leaving Celestial responsible for marketing. It is launching a mini film festival in Hong Kong from Nov 15 just ahead of the launch of the first batch of titles in early December.

"With these deals under our belt we can now concentrate on European and US sales during Mifed. In these territories we can re-release some films into theatres and re-start the windowing cycle," said Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer confirmed that Celestial will now roll out its Asian film channel in the first quarter of 2003. It has been frantically licensing rights to contemporary titles to complement the Shaw library films, that will make up approximately 25% of its airtime. The channel is to be broadcast via a combination of satellite and cable and is capable of being customised for all the territories covered by its footprint.