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First Look Acquires Ventura

21 Mar, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Ventura Entertainment Enterprises, on the block for more than a year, has been partially acquired by First Look Studios, the fast-growing indie assembled by film producer and financier Henry Winterstern.

Ventura, a confederation of about 60 inhouse labels and distributed lines with more than 7,000 titles, has reportedly been experiencing financial difficulties for some time. With a new management team, headed by ex-Paramount Home Entertainment president Eric Doctorow, the company was poised for a turnaround, but then came the Musicland bankruptcy and the loss of millions of dollars in unobtainable receivables.

Larry Hayes, who founded Ventura in 1993 as a way to offer producers and content providers an option to studio distribution, reportedly informed staffers of the sale on Friday. “We're holding our own,” said one administrative staff member.

According to a statement from First Look, the acquisition, for approximately $20 million, includes “assets related to Ventura Distribution Inc.,” including the company's vendor management system and Ventura brand name. The deal also includes Ventura's two-year-old, 75,000-square-foot distribution facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

First Look, based in Los Angeles, has set up a new division, Ventura Home Entertainment, and installed Hayes as president.

“I am proud of the business that we have created at Ventura,” Hayes said in a statement. “We believe that there is tremendous opportunity to grow this new venture with these strong investors.”

Winterstern said he intends to “grow Ventura Home Entertainment into an even stronger brand.&quo;&quo;We've acquired these assets, along with the Ventura brand name, because of the respect they command in the marketplace,” he said. “This marks another important step in the growth of First Look Studios as it continues to become a fully vertically integrated studio.”

First Look Studios is a confederation of First Look Media, a 25-year-old independent film and home entertainment distributor; DEJ Productions, formerly the production and distribution arm of video rental chain Blockbuster Inc.; and Capital Entertainment, Winterstern's own startup.

The company was officially established by Winterstern last year and now consists of four key operating divisions: First Look Pictures, the U.S. theatrical releasing operation; First Look Home Entertainment, the video operation; First Look International, the foreign sales operation; and First Look Media, a branded entertainment arm.

Prior to the Ventura purchase, First Look Studios had a library of about 700 film and TV titles, from hit movies like Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning Monster and The Secret of Roan Inish to TV shows like “Flipper,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Baywatch,” the latter of which is scheduled for a DVD rollout beginning this summer, in partnership with star Pamela Anderson.

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