Universal Pictures International has set Xavier Albert as Managing Director of its French operating company. He will take over the role previously held by Stephane Huard, who is leaving the company to pursue another opportunity, according to UPI president of distribution Duncan Clark. Albert was most recently Marketing Director for Netflix France. Prior to Netflix, the exec spent 10 years with The Walt Disney Company France as Theatrical Marketing Director, Studio Lead and Chief Marketing Officer. He began his career in 1996 in the technical department working on the editing, dubbing and subtitling of trailers for Gaumont Buena Vista International, a joint venture with The Walt Disney Company.
Mattel and HIT Entertainment’s CGI Thomas & Friends feature, Sodor’s Legend Of The Lost Treasure, has been set for a China release on February 20. That makes it the first non-Chinese kids film after the Lunar New Year holidays. This is also the first time a Mattel-owned brand has seen a theatrical release in the Middle Kingdom. Huaxia is distributing. Eddie Redmayne voices one of the engines. The Thomas & Friends TV series is known locally, available through all major digital platforms.
ESPN and China’s Tencent have entered a deal to collaborate on content for the Middle Kingdom company’s platforms. Under the agreement, Tencent’s live sports coverage and digital products will now feature exclusive Mandarin-language ESPN content, initially focused on the NBA and international soccer. Tencent already has exclusive local rights to NBA games which are hugely popular in the country. ESPN will complement the games with live Chinese commentary and a weekly in-studio program. Also under the deal, Tencent will now become the exclusive digital home for the NCAA’s March Madness tournaments and the X Games. Its QQ Sports portal will further launch an ESPN section.
ITV has ordered six-part thriller The Level from Hillbilly Televsision (Second Coming, Random). Written by Gaby Chiappe (Shetland, Vera) and Alex Perrin (Leonardo, Shetland), The Level starts shooting in London and Brighton this spring. The story centers on Nancy, whose exemplary police career masks a covert attachment to shady businessman and drug trafficker, Frank Le Saux. Inextricably linked to Frank from childhood as the father of her best friend, and the father figure she herself craved, Nancy has been playing a dangerous game — ensuring that Frank always remains off police radar. When Frank is murdered, Nancy finds herself at the center of an investigation which will put her at risk of exposure and see her stalked by a killer intent on destroying her. Exec producers are Polly Leys and Kate Norrish. DRG will handle interantional sales; casting is not yet set.