Lionsgate Picks Up TV Distributor

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Independent film and TV studio Lionsgate has acquired television distributor Debmar-Mercury for about $27 million.

Helmed by principals Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, Debmar-Mercury will continue to operate under the company’s own banner as a wholly owned subsidiary of Lionsgate.

As independent operations not owned by major media conglomerates, both Lionsgate and Debmar-Mercury are rare entities in today’s market. The companies already were working together on the syndication launch of the Lionsgate drama “The Dead Zone,” which recently launched its fifth season on USA. Debmar-Mercury also distributes a feature film package for Lionsgate.

Mr. Bernstein has an even stronger connection to Lionsgate: He once served as an international distribution executive for the company. Aside from setting up Mercury Entertainment, he headed domestic distribution operations for Rysher Entertainment.

Mr. Marcus, who founded Debmar Studios, previously ran domestic TV distributor Buena Vista Television.

Debmar-Mercury currently distributes the Comedy Central animated half-hour “South Park” in syndication, as well as the Sci Fi drama “Farscape” for Hallmark Entertainment and The Jim Henson Co.

The deal is the best of both worlds for Debmar, Mr. Marcus said. “We get to be completely autonomous, yet we have the backing of a real company,” he said. “Nothing’s changed at all.”

The separate yet wholly owned arrangement will allow Debmar-Mercury “to operate like Miramax under Disney,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Lionsgate was attracted to Debmar-Mercury because “we’re a pretty profitable little company,” Mr. Bernstein said, noting the company did well distributing “South Park.”

The acquisition allows Debmar-Mercury to go after projects for the international market and domestic video markets using Lionsgate content, he added.

Debmar-Mercury is not just in the off-network distribution business. In June the company ran a limited test run of its original comedy series “House of Payne,” the first new first-run sitcom to be introduced in syndication in more than a decade.

Aside from Mr. Perry’s films, Lionsgate holds a library of about 5,000 film and TV titles. The company behind the 2006 Oscar winner “Crash,” Lionsgate also produces Showtime’s “Weeds,” ABC Family’s “Wildfire” and Sci Fi’s upcoming series “The Dresden Files.”

The acquisition comes from a “natural situation,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group.

“If there is such a thing as a marriage made in heaven, it would seem this is as close as you can get,” he said, noting that Debmar-Mercury “found a specific area that the larger syndicators can’t focus on, and thus they found an area where they can be particularly successful.”