French-based StudioCanal has agreed to take over full ownership of the distribution division of the Australian company.
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18 Jul 2012 - 10:08 AM  UPDATED 18 Jul 2012 - 10:08 AM

Months of uncertainty over the future of Hoyts Distribution have ended with the announcement that the company has been acquired by European production and distribution giant StudioCanal.

In its first incursion into direct distribution outside Europe, StudioCanal gains a significant presence in Australia and New Zealand by buying the company that releases the Twilight franchise Down Under. The existing team led by CEO Robert Slaviero remains in place.

The Hoyts Corporation had been looking to unload its distribution unit before The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 opens here in November and its executives sounded out potential buyers at the Cannes film market. No price was disclosed for the 11-year-old distribution company, which has a library of more than 120 titles but industry executives estimated it would have fetched $20 million-$30 million.

StudioCanal, whose production slate includes the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, Susanne Bier's Serena, Dan Mazer's I Give It a Year, and Paddington, produced by Harry Potter's David Heyman, said it will look for new opportunities for international productions in Australia, capitalising on the tax incentives and talent base. Private equity firm Pacific Equity Partners, which bought the Hoyts group for $440 million in 2007, flagged its intention to unload the entire company, which includes screen advertising network Val Morgan and DVD kiosk chain Oovie, in 2010, but no deal eventuated.

A subsidiary of the Canal + Group, StudioCanal distributes more than 50 films a year in Europe and has its own distribution entities in France, the U.K. and Germany. Slaviero said, "This is great for the business and we are so pleased about the exciting times ahead. StudioCanal is a strong distribution business that produces its own content and acquires product."

Olivier Courson, Chairman and CEO of StudioCanal, said: "We are very happy to develop direct operations in Australia, one of the most dynamic markets in the world, with the very experienced and talented team of Hoyts, led by Robert Slaviero. We believe there are strong opportunities in this territory for our films."

The French executives were impressed when Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (pictured), which Universal Pictures International released in Australia, achieved the third highest gross in the world in this market behind the US and the U.K. StudioCanal had held off selling rights to its films to Australia in the past three months, anticipating the deal with Hoyts.

The French company indicated Hoyts Distribution will be rebranded as StudioCanal down the track but gave no timing. Its upcoming release slate includes Killing Them Softly, I, Alex Cross, Robosapien: Rebooted 3D, The Impossible, The Sweeney, The Host, Broken City, Thunder Run 3D and Necromancer.

Like its counterparts in France, the UK and Germany, the Australian company will have first rights on all StudioCanal productions. StudioCanal has a home entertainment distribution deal with Universal in Australia while Hoyts Distribution has a pact with Sony. That won't entail any logistical rearrangement given the recent formation of Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Australia.