Universal Pictures has hiredMike Baard (pictured) as managing director, Australia and New Zealand. The movecomes in the wake of the restructuring of UIP and the studio's preparations toopen its own theatrical operations in 15 major territories on Jan 1, 2007.

Baard will report directlyto Duncan Clark, executive vice president, international distribution.

The veteran executive hasspent the last two-and-a-half years involved in the management of threeseparate entertainment businesses in Australia and New Zealand. He served asconsulting territory manager for market research firm Theatrical EntertainmentServices, was director of independent distributor Ninth Dimension HomeEntertainment where he oversaw sales, marketing, administration andacquisitions and consulted to specialized independent distributor PolyphonyEntertainment.

Previously he spent 13 yearswith South Africa's Nu Metro, starting his career in the company's homeentertainment division and ending up as managing director of Warner-Nu Metro FilmDistribution, overseeing Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox releasesvia distribution arrangements as well we New Line Cinema titles via Nu Metro'soutput deal with the company.

The announcement of Baard'sappointment was made by David Kosse, the London-based president, UniversalPictures International.