Wild Bunch CEO Vincent Grimond talks Melanie Goodfellow through the company’s impending merger with Germany’s Senator Entertainment.

Wild Bunch and Senator Entertainment, two of Europe’s most high-profile film companies, are set to enter a new era early next year when their recently announced merger is finalised.

“It will create an entity far more powerful than the sum of the two parts,” says Vincent Grimond, CEO of Paris-based Wild Bunch, who will continue his role at the new entity.

The resulting company (to be called Senator AG for now) will be one of Europe’s largest filmed entertainment groups, with projected annual revenues of some $236m (€185m), based on 2013 figures, and a library of more than 2,200 titles.

The merger is the fruit of past co-operation with Senator. Wild Bunch took a 50% stake in Senator’s distribution arm Central Film Verleih in 2007 and the companies also collaborated on acquisitions including The Reader and The King’s Speech.

“When we set up Wild Bunch Germany one of our main headaches was the bookings,” says Grimond. “Central chief Peter Sundarp is the god of bookings in Germany. Taking a stake made sense.”

On Senator’s side, the Central deal generated a welcome cash injection for bosses Helge Sasse and producer Marco Weber, as they struggled to keep the company afloat, having taken the helm after insolvency proceedings in 2005.

‘It reinforces the group and makes Wild Bunch a company that is more present, active and financially credible’

Vincent Grimond, Wild Bunch

It was Sasse who first introduced Wild Bunch to Sapinda, the London-based German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst’s investment group that is bankrolling the merger.

Sapinda, which is headquartered in Amsterdam, took a minority stake in the struggling Senator in July 2012 and is now overseeing a rigorous restructuring plan involving a $33.2m (€26m) capital increase.

“As Senator and Sapinda reflected on solutions to resolve the company’s difficulties, they started coming up with ideas that involved Wild Bunch,” Grimond says. “When we took a look at the benefits, it was a no-brainer.”

In the meantime, Sasse announced his resignation in May 2014, following a $35m (€27.4m) loss for Senator in 2013, saying he felt duty bound to take the rap.

Alongside Grimond as CEO, Wild Bunch chief operating officer Brahim Chioua will be COO, and sales chief Vincent Maraval its chief content officer. Senator executive Max Sturm will take on the role of chief financial officer.

Under the deal Sapinda will buy out Wild Bunch’s existing big shareholders, Iris Capital and Stark Investments, to hold the largest individual share in the umbrella group.

Through a shares swap, Grimond, Chioua and Maraval and fourth Wild Bunch co-founder Alain de la Mata will acquire stock in the new entity and also hold a blocking minority share.

Grimond says the deal ticks a number of boxes for Wild Bunch. In particular, it fulfils the company’s long-held ambition for a strong presence in Germany, “the healthiest media market in Europe”.

“It means we’ll be quoted on the German bourse,” he adds, revealing Wild Bunch had mulled a quotation on the Paris bourse in 2008 but was forced to put these ambitions on hold due to the global financial crisis.

The then fledgling Wild Bunch had been steadily expanding at the time; buying French distributor Pan-Européenne, home entertainment company Wild Side, taking a stake in Italy’s Bim Distribuzione, launching Wild Bunch Germany and eventually taking a stake in Spain’s Vertigo in 2011.

Much of this early growth had been bankrolled by investment funds, which either re-trenched or hit the buffers completely amid the downturn.

“The crisis stopped us in our tracks,” says Grimond. “It was a difficult period and not just for us… a number of distributors went under. It took us some four years from 2009 to digest all that.”

The next era

This period of financial uncertainty finally looks set to come to an end with the merger, although Grimond says that it will be very much business as usual.

“Will it change our day-to-day activities? No. But it reinforces the group and makes Wild Bunch a company that is more present, active and financially credible and because of that more powerful,” he says.

The only big logistical change, he notes, will be the amalgamation of the staff and offices of Berlin-based Senator Entertainment and Wild Bunch Germany.

Any changes to Wild Bunch’s overall strategy and activities will be in response to “outside forces” such as evolutions in film financing, currency fluctuations or the arrival of Netflix in France.

“For a long time, we weren’t directly involved in production but that changed with Adele: Chapters 1 & 2 [aka Blue Is The Warmest Colour].

“Today, the fall in the euro against the dollar means we’re reappraising how we deal with US films, we’re also keeping a close eye on the impact of Netflix’s arrival in France and developments in the digital domain in general,” says Grimond. “We’re always asking ourselves questions. The world changes and we change with it.”