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Entertainment One sets sights on Alliance Films

Six years after being dumped by Alliance Atlantis Communications, the high-powered film player Patrice Theroux is eyeing a triumphant return as his new company Entertainment One Ltd. seeks a takeover of Alliance Films.

The purchase would give EOne the Canadian distribution rights to an additional 11,000 titles, including The Hunger Games.

If EOne is successful in its bid, which it confirmed on Monday that it was pursuing, Mr. Theroux could be reunited with his former mentor, the Alliance chief executive officer Victor Loewy.

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Mr. Theroux was fired in July, 2006, amid unproven allegations he had been talking to prospective suitors without board approval.

Mr. Loewy quit in protest but was lured back two months later.

Since then, the two men have remained friends but competitors. Mr. Theroux is president of EOne's filmed entertainment division.

Robert Lantos, the founder of Alliance Communications, is also on the board of EOne.

Goldman Sachs is shopping Alliance as one of the last remaining assets from its joint $2.3-billion purchase in 2007, with CanWest, Global Communications Corp., of Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. In addition to its core distribution business, Alliance Atlantis and CanWest owned cable channels that Goldman would eventually sell to Shaw Communications in 2010 for $2-billion following CanWest's bankruptcy.

Alliance Films also owns a 50-per-cent stake in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television franchise, which Goldman doesn't intend to sell. with the distribution business.

EOne CEO Darren Throop said that while a deal for Alliance isn't imminent, it is one of several he would like to close this year.

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"If we can do an acquisition or two this year we would love to do that," he said. "If I could get my way, we'll see a combination of organic growth and some strategic acquisitions if they continue to build good shareholder value and create a dominant position for us in the marketplace."

The hunt for new assets is a turnaround for EOne, which put itself on the block last year but then called off a possible sale last February when sufficient bids failed to materialize. It said then that it would embark on a strategic review of its options.

EOne faces possible competition for Alliance, amid speculation that Gerry Schwartz, the boss of investment giant Onex Corp. and a former shareholder in Alliance in a past life, might also be sniffing about. Analysts have speculated that Bell Media, Rogers Media, and Shaw Communications may also be interested in Alliance's library.

Distribution companies and their deep back catalogues of original content have been hot takeover targets in the last year, as telecom companies and web-focused services such as Netflix Inc. create new markets as they license movies and television shows for use on cellphones and tablets. Entertainment One already owns rights to about 23,000 titles. While Canadian distribution revenues dropped 16 per cent last year as video chains across the country shut down, digital rights are increasing in value along with the original content the company produces on its own.

Whoever buys Alliance would score Canadian distribution rights to new movies produced by Relativity Media, Focus Features, Weinstein Company and CBS Films. The company also acquired Maple Pictures last year in a deal worth $40-million.

But a buyer would also inherit ownership complications. To appease regulators, Goldman only owns 75 per cent of Alliance, and Quebec-based Investissement Québec owns the remainder. Any international buyer would also need to find a Canadian partner – Investissement Québec, the investment arm of the Quebec government, said it wants to sell its stake to focus on investments in the natural resources sector.

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EOne said if a deal were to occur, it would finance the purchase through a combination of debt and equity that would be "fully underwritten by a limited group of institutional investors."

EOne e said its revenue increased 7 per cent in the last year to $809-million, with profit before tax increasing 103 per cent to $37-million. Much of the revenue was thanks to the success of the fourth Twilight saga instalment, to which it owns the rights.

With a file from reporter Gayle MacDonald

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