PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
The music company PolyGram (owned by Dutch-based Philips and Germany’s Siemens) created PolyGram Pictures in 1980 as a partnership with film producer Peter Guber. It was a spin-off of sorts to Casablanca FilmWorks, the film unit of PolyGram’s Casablanca Records which Guber previously ran and had success with The Deep and Midnight Express. PolyGram reserved the finances and Guber would run as CEO. Guber would form a partnership with Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser Jon Peters, who co-produced his client’s A Star Is Born remake. Peters would produce PolyGram’s films, and eventually become a stockholder with Guber.
Its first film was King of the Mountain (1981), which was a box-office flop. More money-losers followed. Ancillary markets such as home video and pay television were not yet established, and broadcast television networks were paying less for licenses to films. PolyGram’s European investors were not happy; they had lost about $80 million on its film division. Not long after, Siemens parted with Philips. Guber and Peters left PolyGram Pictures in 1982, taking their plans for a new Batman movie with them, along with a few other projects. The duo eventually found a home at Warner Bros. A part of their exit proceedings, PolyGram would still own 7.5% of profits from some of its projects, including the 1989 Batman film.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, PolyGram continued to invest in a diversified film unit with the purchases of individual production companies. In 1991, PolyGram’s Michael Kuhn became the head of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, with US$200 million pumped in with the intention of developing a European film studio that could produce and distribute films internationally on a scale to match the major Hollywood studios.
Following the style of its music business, the company produced films through a number of creatively semi-autonomous ‘labels’, such as Working Title Films in the UK and Propaganda Films and Interscope Communications in the United States; It also built up its own network of distribution companies.
Film production within PolyGram differed from traditional Hollywood studios, in that power to make (‘green light’) a film was not centralised in the hands of a small number of executives, but instead was decided by negotiations between producers, management and marketing. Kuhn claimed that “movies sort of green lit themselves.”
PolyGram also built up a sizable film and television library that could be profitable. The company purchased ITC Entertainment in 1995. Through this purchase, PolyGram acquired 350 feature films, several thousand hours of television programming, and gained further access into the television market. In 1997, PFE agreed to purchase over a thousand feature films held by Crédit Lyonnais Bank for $225 million. PolyGram also attempted purchasing MGM and The Samuel Goldwyn Company’s library, but to no avail.
PFE was based in the United Kingdom, and invested heavily in British film making — some credit it with reviving the British film industry in the 1990s. Despite a successful production history, Philips decided to sell PolyGram to the beverage (liquor) conglomerate Seagram in 1998.
Only interested in PolyGram’s music operations, Seagram, which at the time controlled Universal Pictures, looked forward to divesting in PFE. After being dissatisfied with offers to buy the studio (including a joint venture between Canal+ and Artisan Entertainment), Seagram opted to sell off individual assets and folded whatever remained into Universal. In 1998, Seagram sold the bulk of its library of films released up until March 31, 1996 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the ITC library was sold to Carlton Communications. Some of PFE’s North American distribution assets were sold to USA Networks. Universal Pictures via Polygram Entertainment owns the rest of the post-1996 films and PolyGram Television.
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment took over the distribution of Manga Entertainment’s titles in Australia and New Zealand in late 1996 after Siren Entertainment’s license to the Manga Video catalogue expired, but PolyGram lost the license to the Manga Video catalogue in 1998 after Madman Entertainment took over the licenses. This was due to Manga Entertainment being moved from Island Records to Palm Pictures.
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