While the chances of getting a property onto a prominent U.S. kidnet may seem akin to winning the Powerball lottery these days, David Pritchard may have found the ideal distribution alternative to securing quality eyeball time with kids. The former Film Roman CEO recently launched Fat Rock Entertainment, a new L.A.-based company that will develop and distribute moderately-budgeted G-rated films designed to play in a network of theater chains on Saturday mornings and in the summer during off-peak hours.
‘With all of the consolidation at networks and studios, it’s getting harder to launch a show on Saturday morning TV,’ says Pritchard. And a venue that shows nothing but family-friendly fare should prove to be an attractive weekend activity option for parents.
To make the gameplan a reality, Fat Rock will act as a virtual studio, establishing alliances with IP holders, producers and theater chains. Movies based on six licensed properties from Hasbro will be first out of the gate. A My Little Pony animated flick is already in production at L.A.-based toon studio SD Entertainment, which has signed on as the exclusive producer for Fat Rock’s initial slate of animated films. But the company is also looking to partner with live-action specialists and plans to sandwich the main features between in-house originated and acquired animated and live-action shorts.
Participating chains Loews Cineplex, Cinemark USA and Carmike Cinemas will distribute the films in all of the top 150 U.S. markets. ‘We’re looking at the theater chains as a network would an affiliate,’ says Pritchard. ‘We’re trying to help them fill out a day part that is under-utilized.’
While the theatrical platform can be a gamble considering the short four- to six-week box-office runs of many films, Fat Rock is attempting to minimize the risk for all partners. Average budgets (which Fat Rock will finance independently) should run between US$5 million and US$10 million, and unless a film is a complete stinker, Pritchard expects the theater chains to show the movies for a minimum of eight to 10 weeks. ‘I’m not in the business of trying to generate the largest weekend gross,’ he says. ‘If you keep the budgets down, you don’t have to fill the theaters on opening weekend to make a business out of it.’ The goal is to turn Saturday mornings (from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.) at the theater into a retail destination.
For IP holder Hasbro, Fat Rock’s distribution initiative complements its own strategy of developing its core brands into other forms of media. Though Hasbro has enjoyed success with TV shows based on its toy lines (i.e. Transformers), Fat Rock’s distribution channel provides it with another entertainment platform for properties that don’t make sense as series or more traditional theatrical releases, says Jane Ritson-Parsons, president of the Hasbro Properties Group. That the movies will be in theaters a lot longer than other features – combined with an eventual DVD release that will extend the film’s life even further – gives ‘us and our licensing & retail partners a wider opportunity to link marketing initiatives to them,’ she adds.
The first film to come out of the partnership in July will be a live-action movie based on the Super Soaker water toy; and set for a fall release that coincides with a merch program Hasbro is coordinating is SD’s 3-D CGI film based on My Little Pony.
In addition to providing theaters with content to draw audiences during off-peak hours, the distribution scheme will also see theater chains receive a percentage of box-office profits and ancillary revenues from broadcast and DVD sales and merchandising. ‘To a large degree, the business model we’ve created is about incentivizing partner theaters to help us build the rest of the business’ by allowing them to partake in other profit streams, says Pritchard.
In terms of property management, individual IP holders will typically oversee the licensing and merchandising programs, although Pritchard says he’ll hire outside agents for Fat Rock-owned properties. Fat Rock will handle domestic film distribution, and at press time had reached a deal in principle with a U.S. studio to oversee domestic television/DVD distribution and international TV, film and DVD sales. Once Fat Rock ramps up its operations, Pritchard envisions distributing six films a year – four co-productions and two pick-ups. In addition to Hasbro, the company has talked with other IP holders and plans to announce several similar deals in the next few months.