Frank Giustra has stepped aside as chief executive officer of Lions Gate Entertainment, the Canadian mini-studio he founded nearly three years ago, and passed on the managerial reins to former Sony Pictures TV chief Jon Feltheimer.

The power transfer, which took affect Tuesday night, is intended to kick Lions Gate's already ambitious expansion plans into an even higher gear. In the past months, the company has considered buying or merging with cartoon character licensing company Harvey Entertainment and is now on the prowl for video and theatrical libraries among other targets.

"Lions Gate is an ideal platform for launching rapid and exciting growth in the independent filmed entertainment world," said Feltheimer. "We are deeply committed to launching Lions Gate on an accelerated growth path that expands its production capabilities, extends its distribution network and leverages its distinctively fresh content in a fast-growing digital environment."

Giustra, however, is not abandoning the Vancouver-based Lions Gate altogether. He will remain on as chairman, offering strategic insights and guiding the firm's mergers and acquisitions activities.

Feltheimer, who will also carry the title of vice chairman, has been involved as a strategic advisor to Lions Gate for the past two months. Through MediaPact, the media management and investment company he formed with Michael Burns, Feltheimer orchestrated a $33m equity financing infusion for Lions Gate that brought in several financial and strategic partners included Scandinavia's SBS Broadcasting, Paul Allen and German broadcaster TeleMuenchen.

Burns, an investment banker who co-founded the Hollywood Stock Exchange website, will now also become vice-chairman of Lions Gate. Burns is also chairman of Ignite Entertainment, the Los Angeles production outfit that sold the North American distribution rights to its gay-themed comedy But I'm A Cheerleader to Lions Gate earlier this month after the original domestic deal with Fine Line Features fell apart.

Feltheimer previously spent eight years at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he served as executive vice president of SPE and president of Columbia TriStar Television Group, managing all aspects of its global production and distribution businesses.

During his tenure, Feltheimer launched or partnered in 30 branded international and regional networks and instigated several co-production ventures aimed at increasing Sony's involvement in indigenous programming. He was the architect of SPE's investment in the US Spanish-language network Telemundo.