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Fast and Furious

8 Jun, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

Urban has become so cool, you can wear it.

The home video industry is moving aggressively into the genre with surging consumer interest in the many urban titles now available, but it wasn't always that way.

Like with many things in American culture, it took a cross-platform of consumer goods to push things.

“The urban genre had been so underserviced,” said Anthony Perez, president of Ground-Zero Entertainment. “Then it began generating so much for retail, dominating everything from music to film to clothes. It really shows how powerful the urban consumer base is and how committed that audience is to a lifestyle.”

Ground-Zero distributes everything from kung-fu to urban to Latino to children's titles. Perez, who was a major player at leading urban-title provider Xenon Entertainment for many years, knows urban titles. Perez created Wu-Tang Presents, the marriage between kung fu and the popular rap group Wu-Tang Clan.

Last year, Ground-Zero launched a Latino line, partnering with Diamante Films and B&M Productions for a combined 300-plus library of Spanish-language films. The company is a consistent supplier of urban titles to the marketplace, including the June 17 release of Black Ball, co-directed by Todd Bridges.

“This genre went through various themes at the retail store level over the years,” Perez said. “It was called black, African-American, soul, then finally the tag ‘urban' came along, primarily targeting 14-to-28-year-olds. Now the Latino market is thriving, and that's because the video industry is keeping up with market trends and ethnic audiences.”

Ground-Zero recently made a significant alteration to its marketing approach.

“We realized that the end-users were not always at home anymore,” Perez said. “They spend 70 percent of time in cars, so we changed our approach to ‘anywhere' entertainment. We created the visual image of an SUV with five TVs, and that ad ran in every major hip-hop magazine. This category requires the necessary changing of strategies to persuade consumers.”

At any given time, Ground-Zero has between five and eight SUVs wrapped with the company logo engaging in cross-promotions with the clothing companies, handing out fliers and T-shirts.

“It's very important for Ground-Zero to keep street credibility,” Perez said. “This consumer is very conscious of what the seller is about. We make sure our acquisitions are true to whatever is happening in that culture.”

It's a practice that has worked well for urban suppliers, whether the sub-category is horror, music or even basketball.

“We're even changing our Web site, giving it a more gritty, urban type of feel, with a lot of lifestyle news and links to relevant sites,” Perez said. “At retail, we've done some promotions with Suncoast, Circuit City, Wherehouse and Ritmo Latino.”

Solid marketing and cultural awareness have also served leading supplier UrbanWorks well during the past few years. The company stocks the urban genre with action, comedy, music and sports releases, with such hot sellers as Ball Above All and the “Def Comedy Jam” series, as well as biographies of prominent African-Americans through its partnership with Black Entertainment Television.

“We've been more and more aggressive on the marketing side,” said company president Jeff Clanagan. “One of our biggest recent surprises is our success with titles that draw a larger female audience. Nobody is really addressing the African-American female market, and that's a demographic we are interested in cultivating.”

UrbanWorks, in partnership with Ventura Distribution for video releases, also develops some projects for theatrical.

“We have a number of scripts and movies in development,” Clanagan said. “There's sometimes too much of the same type of product in the urban genre, and we're interested in broadening those horizons. Starting some of those projects at theatrical creates a bigger awareness for the video release.”

Other urban mainstays include the highly successful Xenon Entertainment, with its wide-ranging selection of titles from the worlds of action, music and sports, and with several titles enjoying theatrical runs before their introduction at retail.

Then there's York Entertainment, whose innovative president, Tanya York, has expanded the company into the international urban market.

“Urban is new business for many international markets, and that's good, because it's wide open,” York said. “At the same time, we are very much focusing on domestic sales. A few years ago, it wasn't always easy to find urban product on retail shelves, but now we're involved with just about every major retailer.”

BCI Eclipse, meanwhile, has become king of the multi-pack, offering urban genre titles at value prices in four- and 10-packs.

“We just completed a 600-plus-store Wal-Mart promotion with these urban sets, and they did fantastic,” said company president Greg Glass. “These sets are also in the urban assortment at select Sam's Club locations -- again performing phenomenally well.”

There's also urban news at Hannover House, a company that recently announced the completion of a 10-picture video distribution pact with Atlanta-based SharpVision/Silvervision Films & Entertainment. The partnership will kick off with the Aug. 5 DVD re-release of the urban action-thriller Razor Sharpe and the comedy title The Kingdom Comedy Tour.

“[The Kingdom Comedy Tour] is expected to be a very popular rental and sellthrough title,” said Hannover House president Eric Parkinson in a company press release. “It's directed by Chet Brewster, whose prior works include the smash-hit Kings of Comedy Tour. This made-for-video program should appeal to a broad range of video consumers.”

The versatility of the urban category is well known. Even extreme sports enters into the mix, such as with Monterey Media's “Over the Edge” series, featuring the titles BoardsX, Motorcycle MayhemX and Street RaceX. The titles are accompanied by the latest cutting-edge music.

“We've watched the extreme sports medium snowball into a well-positioned trend that not only crosses sports, but crosses generations as well,” said Jere Rae-Mansfield, CFO and general manager of Monterey Media.

Extreme sports and traditional sports titles have blended into the same general category, with hot-selling extreme titles joined by titles mixing basketball highlights with popular hip-hop and rap music.

“Extreme sports is the current and next wave of sports for our younger generation that has been raised on speed and quick-cutting film techniques of MTV and sports channels,” Mansfield said.

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