Studio Canal's acquisition of Optimum, just a few months after Lionsgate's takeover of Redbus,marks a major shift for the UK indie distributionbusiness.

Not so long ago, it was a side of the industry that waswidely seen as over-stretched, cash-strapped and scrambling to stay afloat.

Distributors were invariably to be heard fretting overaccess to screens, or grumbling about crippling P&A costs and unsympatheticreviewers, or complaining about how difficult it had become to sell their waresto television. However, last October, when Lionsgateacquired British distributor Redbus (the company thatbegan life in 1999 in founder Simon Franks' spare bedroom) for a reported $35m,it became apparent that the old image no longer held entirely true.

The Optimum deal adds to growing evidence of a newbreed of indie British distributor who is aggressiveand entrepreneurial.

Optimum Releasing, like Redbusset up in 1999, has enjoyed a spectacular rise.

It has had eyecatchingtheatrical successes (Amores Perros,Fahrenheit 9/11, Howl's Moving Castle).

But, right from its launch, it has also been snappingup library titles, building a robust DVD business.

The question 'why would anyone want to acquire a UK distribution business'' no longer seems outlandish.

"I'd reverse the question and ask why not'" says WillClarke, Managing-Director of Optimum. "All I can say is that outside the US, it (the UK) is one of the best territories. You've seen thetheatrical market was up - one of the only territories in the world that had anincrease year on year.

DVD is extremely buoyant. Price points are down butthe volume is very much up. Television isn't great but it's growing in terms ofthe BBC's increased commitment to film. I can see why other countries wouldlike a gateway to a very strong production base, albeit one that is slightlydamaged at the moment."

There is an obvious logic to a deal between Studio Canal and Optimum.

As Vincent Maraval of Frenchdistributor Wild Bunch puts it: "they (StudioCanal)have a strong video catalogue, especially an English catalogue with manyEnglish classics. Optimum is very (strongly) performing in the video market,"

In the mid-1990s, the French company purchased the Carolco Library (including such titles as Basic Instinct and Terminator 2.) At around the same time, Canal + acquired UGC DA,the largest catalogue of films in France and the second largest in Europe, which includes the Lumièrecatalogue in France and the EMI-WEINTRAUB library in the UK. Many of these are the kind of classic films thatOptimum has done well releasing in the British market.

As Clarke realised when he wasfirst building his business, vintage library titles like The Third Man and A Bout De Souffle (both re-released by Optimum) are relativelycheap to acquire, generally critic proof and still attractive to audiences onbig screen and small screen alike.

Maraval describes Optimum as "the best performing" UK distributor right now and suggests that one of thekey attractions for any potential buyer/partner is the company's managementteam.

"We have worked a lot with them. They are very goodbusinessmen."

"Simon Franks and Zygi Kamasa (founders of Redbus in1999) and Will Clarke and Danny Perkins (founders of Optimum) have donesomething that is pretty amazing considering the market over the last 10years," agrees an admirer.

"They've both built successful, long-term distributioncompanies from scratch and made them attractive to outside buyers wheneverybody said they couldn't do it."

Nonetheless, Maravalcautions that the UK remains a tough market for the theatrical release offoreign language titles - something which may deter European outfits looking toset up in Britain.

For more analysis, see this week'sScreen International magazine.