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Return of Video's ‘Founding Father'

14 Jan, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Andre Blay

Andre Blay, the celebrated father of the home video business, has come back to his roots.

After an absence of more than a decade, Blay has returned to the industry he jump-started in 1978 when he licensed 50 films from 20th Century Fox for release on videocassette under the Magnetic Video label.

He's helming a boutique DVD label called Mackinac Media, which plans on releasing up to 40 titles a year in various niche genres, from sports and documentary to art-house and foreign.

The new company's first three releases, streeting April 26, are FIFA Fever, which chronicles 100 years of World Cup soccer; the acclaimed A&E documentary Stooges: The Men Behind the Mayhem; and For Jack, an award-winning Australian film.

“With the major diversity of programming that has emerged because of DVD and the size of the market, it's no longer just a theatrical business,” Blay said. “It's just a question now of the quality of the programming.”

Blay said he was spurred to re-enter the business after research revealed some surprising sales successes, including a DVD of Ohio State winning the college football title that sold more than 100,000 copies and the recent Boston Red Sox World Series DVD that sold more than 250,000 units.

Back in the VHS rental era, “these are numbers you only saw for a major release,” Blay said. He attributes the change to the inherent collectability of DVD, driven in part by low price points, “which is triggering a certain pent-up desire and demand in people for a diverse range of programming.”

Blay said that as a test, he ran a small regional ad in USA Weekend for Stooges and sold 800 copies in five days through direct response. “That equates to a national market of more than 1 million copies,” he said.

With a release schedule that consists mostly of niche titles, Blay intends to pursue non-traditional retail channels, particularly for his sports titles. “There are 900 stores nationwide that sell only soccer equipment, and tens of thousands of stores that sell a mixture,” he said.

Blay, a Michigan native, founded Magnetic Video Corp. in 1968 as an audio/video production and duplication company. He made history in 1978 when he convinced Fox to license 50 films for a direct-mail operation he called Video Club of America. At a time when VCRs still cost nearly $1,000, a small ad in TV Guide brought the club 9,000 members and video sales of more than 250,000 videocassettes.

A year later, Blay sold Magnetic Video to Fox and became president of the studio's home video division, a position he held for three years. In 1981 Blay launched his own company, which the following years was bought by Embassy Home Entertainment. Blay came along to run Embassy until 1986, greenlighting such films as Hope and Glory and Sid and Nancy.

In 1988, Blay crossed sides to cable and launched a pay-per-view channel called Action Pay-Per-View. In the early 1990s he sold it to Black Entertainment Television and ever since has busied himself with various venture capital projects.

His return to home video was prompted by one thing, he said: “The health of the business. Figures announced last week were the business in 2004 generated more than $24 billion in sales, and that's just domestic. I would speculate the health of the business is excellent.”

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