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Marathon Group looks towards Europe and beyond

French producer and distributor Marathon is one of the fastest growing production companies in Europe. CEO Pascal Breton talks to Pascale Paoli-Lebailly about the company’s new ownership and its goals for the future

Italian publisher De Agostini acquired 82% of Marathon in July 2007 and has ambitions to combine the French company’s expertise with that of its other entertainment assets, which include interests in Antena 3 in Spain and Magnolia in Italy.

In 2007, Marathon produced 350 hours. This will jump to 600 hours this year. In France, Marathon has just taken a majority stake in director Renaud Le Van Kim’s entertainment and events company KM.

How did the De Agostini deal come about?

De Agostini has been actively diversifying and investing into the production and TV sector for a little over a year via its subsidiary De Agostini Communications. In Italy and Spain, it also controls Magnolia (Giorgio Gori) and the Antena 3 network.

When we started talking, De Agostini had made a bid for Endemol. If the group had taken over Endemol, I wouldn’t have signed up. But the acquisition failed and with Marathon’s buyout, De Agostini’s ambition was to build the third European production group, behind Endemol and Fremantle, focusing on drama, entertainment and animation.

It was a better solution than getting listed on the Stock Exchange as we had first planned. Our Italian partners are ideal because they’re able to financially invest internationally but do respect the independence of each entity of the group.

What value did the deal place upon theGroup?

Marathon Group was bought for €240m ($378m) a year and a half after Bridgepoint’s €70m acquisition. In-between, there has been a real value creation as we integrated Marathon, ALP, TéléImages and Marathon Media into the Marathon Group.

What is Marathon Group’s place within De Agostini?

We want to be the dream team of TV in France and a key actor in the group’s worldwide expansion. This month, De Agostini Communications headquarters are moving to Marathon’s offices in Paris.

What is the next step in the construction of this European group?

With De Agostini Group CEO Lorenzo Pellicioli and managing director Paolo Ceretti, we’re studying new acquisitions in Spain, but the next major steps will be made in the US, in Canada, in the UK, in Scandinavia, and in Eastern Europe, with advanced talks already going on.

International operations are led by the De Agostini group but producers such as Giorgio Gori, Vincent Chalvon-Demersay (CEO of Marathon Media) and myself are consulted. Production companies concerned are more involved in entertainment or animation, like in Canada, but we also examining drama-oriented structures.

How else can you take advantage of De Agostini’s influence?

We’re working things out. For instance, we’re hoping to get our animation properties such as Totally Spies, distributed by Editions Atlas, a leader in direct sales that combines publishing products and videos.

What is Marathon Group’s strategy in France?

To strengthen our positions and complement our companies: ALP for entertainment, Marathon Media for animation, TéléImages and Marathon for docs and drama.

That’s the reason why we just acquired 50.1% of KM, headed by Renaud Le Van Kim and involved into talk shows, magazines and TV events like Cannes Film Festival. And we’re going to get closer to Magnolia France, headed by Patrick Meney, and are much more involved in magazines. We also want to be present in new genres such as comedy and low-cost production for DTT channels. To build the group, we’re looking to aggregate individual talents. Our next acquisition will be a format producer created by a famous TV animator.