Industry veteranJ Edward Shugrue has set his sights on developing the exhibition anddistribution circuit in Vietnam after announcing a new venture, Envoy MediaPartners, which aims to develop the entertainment business in underservedinternational markets.

Shugrue, the former president of Loews Cineplex International and longtimepresident of Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International, is partnered in Envoywith Mekong Leisure and Asian Capital Partners in an attempt to breathe lifeinto the potential of markets such as Vietnam.

Following twoyears of research and development and lobbying for government permits, Envoywas yesterday (Mar 1) granted investment and operational licences from theVietnamese government's Ministry of Planning and Investment.

The licensesenable the formation of Megastar Cineplex, a purpose-built joint venture inVietnam between Envoy Media Partners and leading Vietnamese publisher andpublication retail operator Phoung Nam Corporation (PNC).

PNC directorgeneral Phan Thi Le will serve as the local partner of MegaStar Cineplex.

The partnerswill develop state-of-the-art theatre complexes and handle internationaldistribution in Vietnam, a piracy-ravaged nation of less than 100 screens witha potential film-going audience of between 25 million and 30 million people.

"Sub-standardtheatres and limited access are the unfortunate reality in Vietnam," Shugruesaid in a statement. "The leading film distributors of the world have all butabandoned the market. We believe that given the chance to view contemporaryfilms in first-class cinemas with big screens and multi-channel sound, theVietnamese population will respond and embrace movie-going in a very big way."

"Mostimportantly the licences that we have been granted allow us to not only buildexciting movie going destinations, but also to import film and to distributethose films - after censorship - to our cinemas and in turn to the othertheatres operating in the territory. We intend to import films not only fromHollywood, but also from China, Hong Kong, Korea and Europe - whatever themarket's audience demands."

"We are sopleased to have PNC join this formidable partnership to provide world-classmovie-going experiences to Vietnam," Madame Le added. "This is an important step in the growth of PNC that overtime will allow us to grow many segments of our business in many areas ofentertainment."

Vietnam is thesecond fastest growing economy in Asia, with a population of more than82million people of which 50% are under the age of 25 and 80% are under the ageof 40 - prime film viewing demographics.

"The market forcinema should prove astounding in Vietnam," partner Don DeVivo of MeKongLeisure, a privately held investment group with an eight-year history ofoperating businesses in Vietnam, said.

"I expect it maytake some time to build a movie-going habit in this market, but the Vietnamesepopulation craves high-quality entertainment and comfortable environments inwhich to enjoy it."

"While Vietnammay be one of the last untapped cinema markets left in the world, there aremany smaller markets and opportunities that Envoy will also explore," RichardRosenfield, Envoy partner and head of private investor group Asian CapitalPartners, added.

"I am delighted to have Tedwith us at Envoy with his many years of international entertainment experience.We are already looking at other opportunities overseas."