EXCLUSIVE: There have been seismic shifts in the UK’s indie distribution sector over the past few months, and more are in the cards. In what could be seen as a healthy sign for the industry, we’re hearing that Icon Distribution is set to re-emerge, backed by film fund Prescience, financier of The King’s Speech. The Icon UK Group, owned by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, pulled out of the distribution business in 2011 to focus on in-house film finance and production. At the time, it pacted with Lionsgate UK to handle its theatrical titles and recently announced a deal for Icon Entertainment International’s library to be repped by Exclusive Media. We understand that Prescience is close to a deal to acquire what remains of Icon Distribution in the UK, led by Icon executive Ian Dawson. We hear a deal has been in the works for some time and there’s a chance it may not make, but expectations are that the new company could launch in time to be buying at May’s Cannes Film Market.
The timing looks fortuitous given the changing outline of the UK’s distribution landscape. Already this year, eOne’s takeover of Alliance folded in Momentum, eliminating a key buyer. The resultant drop in prices was loudly lamented by sales agents in Berlin. One exec tells us, “If you’re a producer or a sales agent selling to the UK, you used to say you needed to get eOne and Momentum in a bidding war,” and that’s clearly not happening anymore. But another distributor welcomes the rationalization of the market where prices were inflated by having too many distribs competing for the same films. Another tells us, “It’s shaking out the rubbish that’s out there and the projects that are un-financeable.”
Still, an overwhelmingly common refrain is that there is a real opportunity for another distributor to surface. A revived Icon could fill that space. Another name that pops up as a potentially aggressive player is Koch Media, the UK arm of the German giant. It released Arbitrage and Red Dawn earlier this month. Koch, a rival distributor opines, “has a shitload of money to burn through. That’s the first thing you need.”
Meanwhile, the disappearance of hotshot Revolver, known for its edgy urban movies (Shank, Anuvahood), has left that market underserved, which could make way for a savvy comer in that arena. In February, we reported that the company was close to shuttering and since then, its films have in most cases reverted back to their sales agents.
Clare Binns of Picturehouse, which was acquired by exhibitor Cineworld late last year, says, “We can see (Revolver’s place) as a space we can fill.” Revolver’s Stone Roses documentary recently went to Picturehouse and Binns says she’s on the lookout for films that might be too small for some distributors but which are a “smart proposition.” The company also has 60 of its own screens meaning it can program strategically.
Another movie on the Revolver slate, The Liability, recently went to Metrodome, which works with elevated genre like Ti West’s Innkeepers and hooligan thriller St George’s Day. Metrodome’s name often comes up, but we understand the company is not looking to be overly ambitious. While Will Clarke’s Altitude might also seem a candidate to step into the distribution ring, the Optimum founder is believed, for now, to be focusing his year-old company on finance, production and sales.