It’s a question that’s been buzzing around Hollywood: Who is Joe Bretz and what in the world does he want with Image Entertainment, an old line video distributor, in the age of YouTube?
Here’s the puzzling answer: The 34-year-old former fashion model turned movie producer has visions of becoming the latest Hollywood mogul taking advantage of online distribution channels.
“I can tell you this. Nobody knows, not even Image, the full extent of what we have planned,” said Bretz, the founder, chief executive and majority owner of San Francisco-based Q Black Media LLC. His Nyx Acquisitions subsidiary made a $100 million offer last month for the Chatsworth home entertainment distributor in a deal yet to be approved by stockholders.
The $2.75 per share price was close to four times as much as the company’s closing stock price on Nov. 21, the day the deal was announced. But it’s far below a $4 per share offer from Lions Gate Entertainment that Image turned down two years ago when Image’s business was more highly valued.
Indeed, on the surface it’s hard to see exactly what Bretz sees in Image, whose core value lies in its library of more than 4,000 movies and music titles mostly low-budget urban and thriller film fare, as well as older popular television shows sold at major retail outlets.
Q Black Media is a private company focused on producing live concerts for television, film production and Internet technology. Q Black has produced two films, both starring comedian Rob Schneider a business Bretz said that he plans to step up once the Image acquisition is completed.
Bretz claims Q Black’s strong suit, however, is its ties with Silicon Valley technology gurus such as Ralph Guggenheim, chief executive of Alligator Planet LLC, which makes animated movies and is a consultancy for social media Web companies.
A teen fashion model, Bretz studied criminal justice for a short time at the University of Wisconsin. But he got his career traction in San Francisco where he worked developing graphics for Progressive Gaming International Corp., a publicly traded slot machine gaming company.
He also made contacts with slot machine software engineers who he plans to draw upon to distribute new movie productions and Image’s library digitally be it online, mobile or some as yet to be developed medium.
Not everyone is as confident as Bretz that he can become the next big breakout media mogul.
“The world is not waiting for Mr. Bretz. It has YouTube. This stuff will be ad supported and Google already has the infrastructure and hundreds of millions of viewers,” said Jonathan Taplin, a former producer and professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “Who would pay actual money to see the films in Image Entertainment’s library? It will have to be ad supported and they’re late to the game with no horsepower.”
Taplin has experience in the field: He was a founder of Intertainer, a pioneer video-on-demand company for both cable and broadband Internet markets in the early 1990s and personally holds two patents for video-on-demand technologies.
New kid on the block
Bretz said that he is aware of the skepticism that surrounds the deal and that little is known about his Q Black Media “We’re a private company and we operate privately,” he noted but he maintains that his plans are more than just talk.
Bretz has an entrepreneurial streak that dates back to when he founded a sports trading card retail store at the age of 14 in West Bend, Wis. He said he sold it for a modest profit when he was 16 and his fashion modeling career had taken off.
And as an adult he has moved with seeming ease among different businesses. Q Black owns a nightclub in San Francisco called Paradise Cafe, and he owns office and retail space that is leased out to other nightclubs and offices, he said.
Bretz gained his toehold into Hollywood when he produced a live broadcast of the band “Smash Mouth” from the Fillmore concert hall in San Francisco and then produced the “California Music Awards,” among other television shows and films.
“That’s when I began to meet a lot of Hollywood executive types like Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz,” said Bretz, who has a second home in the Hollywood Hills and is now in post production with his latest dramatic comedy, “The Chosen One,” starring actor Rob Schneider.
“Because of my connections in Silicon Valley and my connection with Hollywood, I have been able to pull together a number of private investors who believe in my vision of a new type of digital delivery paradigm.”
Private investors helped finance the Image deal but he refuses to name any investor publicly.
Though Bretz refuses to talk about his vision for the company, he apparently has been persuasive enough to convince Image, which wants to get into the new media game.
The 25-year-old video distribution company recently created a new division called Egami Media, focusing on the aggregation and wholesale distribution of digital rights to its video content.
“I believe that this is the perfect marriage because we have content and they are digital and software experts,” said David Borshell, Image’s chief executive. “We complement each other.”
Bretz, a Milwaukee native, splits his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Indeed, Borshell met Bretz at the latter’s Hollywood Hills home six months ago while Q Black was negotiating distribution of its upcoming Schneider film. “These are real salt of the earth guys, and me being from Wisconsin, really hit it off,” Bretz said.
Bretz said he and his handful of private investors spent the next six months performing due diligence to negotiate the deal, which is expected to be sent to stockholders for approval sometime in the first quarter.
Bretz said he expects to keep Image’s management in place to help execute his digital distribution plans, but plans to take the company private.