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Sky Dives Into Italian Theatrical Releasing Alliance With ‘Vision Distribution’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 1/30/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME – European pay-TV platform Sky and five prominent Italian production companies have officially launched their Italian theatrical distribution operation, now named Vision Distribution. It is headed by former Warner Bros. Italy managing director Nicola Maccanico.

As previously reported, the partnership sees Sky Italia, Italy’s top pay-TV provider, in an alliance with producers Cattleya, Wildside, Lucisano Group, Palomar, and Indiana Production, which together account for roughly 40% of the domestic share of the Italian box office. Cattleya’s comedy “Mister Felicità” recently beat several Hollywood blockbusters to top the 2017 New Year’s weekend box office spot. The movie was released by 01 Distribution, a unit of Rai Cinema, the movie arm of Italian pubcaster Rai.

Massimiliano Orfei, Rai Cinema’s head of legal affairs,will join Vision Distribution as its chief financial and legal affairs officer, becoming the company’s de facto No. 2. Davide Novelli, a web-marketing expert previously at Warner Bros. and several tech startups, has been appointed director of distribution.

Vision Distribution will make Sky Italia the third broadcaster in Italy with a theatrical distribution arm. More importantly, it will be an attempt “to evolve a system which has been static for a long time,” Maccanico said, in his first interview as Vision CEO.

“The world of [theatrical] distribution and broadcasters has found forms of collaboration in many different ways. But to have 5 producers as partners is unprecedented,” he noted.

The new outfit is likely to break up the quasi-duopoly of state broadcaster Rai and Mediaset/Medusa, the latter controlled by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Of those two, Rai Cinema currently dominates the market for Italian homegrown product ever since Mediaset/Medusa scaled back slightly several years ago. There is speculation that Mediaset may be sold to France’s Vivendi, which could lead to further changes in Italy’s film industry landscape.

“There will be more competition,” Maccanico said.  “And this will be good for [cinematic] value and improved box office results.”

Sky’s decision to enter Italy’s theatrical distribution arena stems from a strategic necessity. It means Sky Italia is now guaranteed to get premium Italian movie content, which accounts for almost half the movie-content audience share on its platform. Of the top 10 movies on its Sky Cinema channel, seven are Italian.

In other words, Sky Italia no longer has to go ask its competitors, Rai Cinema and Medusa, for pay-TV rights to Italian movies.

Maccanico noted that the company’s chief trait will be “transparency” which is necessary because the partners have not worked together before. All partners will have access to the company’s books. Sky will hold all TV rights, pay and free, to the titles they release.

Besides movies made by the five founding production companies, Vision Distribution will release titles from other Italian shingles. It will act either strictly as a theatrical distribution service or also as a co-financer, on a case-by-case basis. “We will work on projects from their inception, trying to build them with a common logic,” he said.

Vision Distribution will also release some European and international titles, though the “focus will be Italian movies,” Maccanico said, adding that “they are still defining their international strategy.”

His goal is to release roughly 20 titles per year, which is just slightly below the number of pics being handled by Rai Cinema. The first Vision Distribution release, the title of which is being kept under wraps, will go out in Italy this summer.

Finding common ground on issues such as release dates among competing titles to be released by Vision could be challenging.

Maccanico noted that the distribution strategy will be up to Vision’s management. “That said, we want to be extremely open with our producing partners, shareholders or not, while deciding the movie strategies, [and] also to benefit from their experience and turn their partnership into synergy,” he said.

He underlined that Vision is an “open system,” meaning that none of the producers it works with, including the five partner companies, are bound to it exclusively.

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