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Lionsgate & Televisa Join Forces to Target Hispanic Market

Joint venture Pantelion will release 8 to 10 films a year, but past efforts to court Spanish speaking audiences have been mixed

Lionsgate and Mexican media conglomerate Televisa are joining forces to launch Pantelion Film, geared at Hispanic moviegoers in the U.S., the two companies announced on Tuesday.

Lionsgate has made a mint targeting African-American audiences through its collaborations with Tyler Perry. The studio is clearly hoping that it will be able to find a Spanish-speaking answer to Madea.

Pantelion will release a slate of eight to 10 films a year over the next five years targeted to Latino audiences. The joint venture will kick off with the January 2011 release of the comedy “From Prada to Nada.”

"Pantelion is unprecedented in terms of the production, distribution and marketing resources we are focusing on the Latino moviegoer in the U.S. and the consistent pipeline of movies we are offering Hispanic audiences," Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said in a statement.

As the studio noted in its announcement, it makes good business sense to cater to one of the fastest growing demographics in the United States. Some 26 million U.S. moviegoers are Hispanic, representing more than a fourth of all frequent moviegoers in the country, accordiing to the studio.

Yet past efforts to reach Hispanic audiences by Hollywood have been problematic. Universal shuttered its own Latino film label Arenas in 2003 after it failed to produce any hits. Samuel Goldwyn also struck out with Latino-themed projects such as "The Crime of Father Amaro."

There have been enough hits though to bolster Lionsgate and Televisa's hopes, though. Breakout films include "Y Tu Mama Tambien" which grossed $33 million worldwide in 2002, and "Pan's Labyrinth," which made $83 million worldwide in 2006. Those Spanish language movies, however, racked up box office dollars in part because of well-known, international directors and glowing critical notices that broadened their appeal.

Lionsgate and Televisa would do well to replicate the success Univision has had catering to Hispanics on the small screen. Univision has been rapidly expanding its market share in the television realm. The Spanish language network has been routinely tying or beating the big four networks in the  key adults 18-49 demographic throughout the summer.

Lionsgate has been on a winning streak of its own of late. Despite being mired in a costly proxy fight with billionaire investor Carl Icahn, the studio has dominated the late summer box office with hit films such as "The Expendables" and "The Last Exorcism."

Four to five films will be produced in-house each year, and the other four to five films will be acquired by the Pantelion. Some will be in Spanish, while others will feature Hispanic actors and stories, but will be filmed in English.

Pantelion will be headed by Chairman Jim McNamara, head of Panamax Films and former president and CEO of Telemundo, and CEO Paul Presburger, a longtime Lionsgate international executive and architect of the Pantelion deal and strategy.