EXCLUSIVE: Saban Films is continuing to expand its international footprint, having recently inked a deal with distribution partners in Switzerland and Benelux. The L.A.-based company has signed with WW Entertainment in Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) and Ascot Elite in Switzerland, which it will add to deals it already has in place in the UK and Ireland (Altitude), Germany and Austria (Splendid), France (ACE Entertainment), Spain (Key2Media), Scandinavia (Mis.Label) and Australia and New Zealand (Defiant Screen Entertainment).
“We are confident that we have found the perfect like-minded partners with WW Entertainment and Ascot Elite as we continue to build our global distribution capabilities,” Saban Films’ president Bill Bromiley says.
When the company, which is backed by Power Rangers billionaire Haim Saban, launched in Cannes nearly eight years ago, the aim was to build a distribution outfit that would focus on talent-driven, genre titles, releasing around 12 to 18 movies a year.
“We’ve changed that model a little bit as the appetite has changed over the years but for the most part, our aim is the same thing,” Bromiley tells Deadline. “Except we’ve gone from 12 movies a year to 60.”
Saban Films is coming off the back of two of its most successful years in terms of revenue – during a pandemic, nonetheless. At the end of last year, the outfit had released 148 films since it’s inception and, under Bromiley’s lead, the company has started boarding more and more projects at script stage, as well as expanding its tentacles with distribution partners across the globe.
Saban’s past titles range from Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker starrer City Of Lies to Mel Gibson starrer Fatman with an upcoming slate including Hide with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Bruce Willis starrer Reactor and Nicolas Cage western The Old Way.
The company admittedly doesn’t acquire the buzziest projects up for grabs at markets and instead chooses to remain steadfast to what Bromiley describes as a “distribution agnostic” business with “no ego.” “Our bottom line is profitability,” he says.
“At the moment, there’s a whole new perspective on people’s ability to watch content and where they can watch it,” Bromiley says. “Our business is indicative of that given we’ve had two of our biggest years back-to-back.”
Deadline sat down with Bromiley to discuss the company’s strategy, its plans for expanding a global distribution footprint and the challenges that lie for the business ahead.
DEADLINE: Tell us about Saban’s business model and how you have stuck to it.
BILL BROMILEY: We like to call it a distribution agnostic model. When we started, we didn’t have a specific way to distribute the films, we just wanted to maximize revenue on each film. So, in a lot of cases, it was a day-and-date strategy. We worked a lot with DirecTV in the beginning to do premieres with them. We didn’t say no to anything, and we explored every possible way that was new to get content into the consumer home. Where we settled was on the day-and-date model and over the years, that’s been our primary way of releasing films. It was challenging several years ago but, ironically, the business has sort of gone that way anyway. Five years ago or so, it was tough for us to sell talent on that release strategy, but now the studios are doing it so it’s easy.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the pandemic – we didn’t know the business would be going this way, but the day-and-date-model always seemed to us to be the best way to maximize exposure of a movie.
DEADLINE: You focus a lot on genre titles. Why is this?
BROMILEY: That was the way that the company was launched. That was our pitch when we got Haim [Saban] involved in it, and we sort of pride ourselves on sticking to this business model. It’s tough sometimes to be at a market and see a film that you absolutely love and then do the numbers on it and realize you can’t really make it work because you can’t find the audience.
We’ve walked away from a lot of films we really enjoyed and stuck to those movies that are more traditional in terms of having a larger audience and that’s essentially the genre films. The genre titles have also been more resilient, and these are titles that have always worked more in the independent space, action titles, thrillers and suspense titles.
DEADLINE: Would you ever stray from that model?
BROMILEY: Never say never. We have experimented with some small family films and they have not worked but it’s never say never.
DEADLINE: You guys have set up an expansive global distribution network, partnering with companies such as Altitude in the UK and Ireland, ACE Entertainment in France and Defiant Screen in Australia and New Zealand, among others. What’s the strategy behind this?
BROMILEY: We started thinking about this probably two or three years ago when we were looking for ways to expand the business. We decided to focus on replicating the model that we have in the U.S., which is to align ourselves with very strong partners in certain territories internationally and have output deals with these partners as we do in the U.S. [Saban partners with Lionsgate and Paramount for domestic releases].
This model will allow us to grow the company and revenue in a conservative way because there isn’t a lot of risk attached. We must educate ourselves on each of the territories of course.
DEADLINE: How does it work at markets then? Do you strategize with your partners when buying a film?
BROMILEY: That’s a good question. It’s a little bit different at markets. It’s better to look at it in terms of finished films versus pre-buys. With finished films often we will just make the deal whether it’s for the U.S., North America or all of our territories. In some cases, we’ve bought worldwide rights. For a pre-buy, we do a little bit more digging and we evaluate in each of the territories what we think the worth is in each and, in some cases, if it’s something they’ve been pursuing, we decide if we’re going to do it together or do it separately. It’s worked out well and super easy so far.
DEADLINE: What’s the plan for growing this global distribution network?
BROMILEY: We’re taking it slowly. But we will continue to expand as we see necessary. I think we’ve kept it where we want to go for stage one. We have identified the territories that make the most sense for us. But if you’re asking will there be a stage two expansion? Yes, there will be at some point for sure. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to be in the worldwide business within another year or two.
DEADLINE: What’s the distribution business looking right now for your company given the current landscape?
BROMILEY: We’re hoping that it continues to get back to somewhat what it used to be prior to the pandemic. I think that the theatrical business is very healthy for the business overall. It’s necessary. Even though it’s not our primary source of revenue, we are fully supportive of it. People want to see movies in theaters and I don’t think that will ever go away. Unfortunately, you’re seeing some of the weaker theaters having to close for financial reasons but I think that the theaters that do remain will continue to prosper and that business will grow back to a segment of what it used to be. Now, we’re seeing people have been more educated on how to see film in places outside of the theater. So, hopefully what happens is we have more opportunities and more eyeballs to be able to see film in more places and I don’t think this will be at the expense of theaters. I think theatrical is going to come back, it’s just going to take a little bit more time.
DEADLINE: What challenges are you facing beyond that?
BROMILEY: I think the biggest challenge for us is content and, to be more specific, it’s the talent in the content. The actors that are doing projects in the independent film world are the same group of 20, 30 or 40 actors. Most of the talent has migrated to the SVOD companies and cable companies and are working for, I would presume, massive fees because they have left the independent film business. We used to have this great breadth of types of talent that we could choose from and now we’re not seeing that and that is, I think the biggest danger we face.
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