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Tapping Franchise Power

3 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Fox spun off a direct-to-video title from TV's "Family Guy."

A year ago, Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau proclaimed it “the year of the franchise” for his studio.

These days, the same can be said of the entire DVD industry.

With the business maturing and high-definition on the horizon, suppliers are looking to maximize the existing DVD business through aggressive branding and franchising in the nontheatrical and direct-to-video arenas.

Indeed, the latest studio estimates are that just 35 percent of the DVD business comes from new theatricals, putting the onus on home video executives to feed their own kitty instead of just drafting off their theatrical divisions.

“The market is no longer dependent on new releases for growth,” said Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. He said one of Fox's biggest goals is to create TV DVD franchises, such as its enormously successful “Family Guy,” which has just spun off a direct-to-video feature film, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, with an initial shipment of 1.2 million units.

Other suppliers are looking at direct-to-video sequels to live-action theatrical hits. Universal is among them, with a new line of “Universal DVD Originals” that launched Sept. 27 with Carlito's Way: Rise to Power.

The film was produced by Martin Bregman, who also produced 1993's original Carlito's Way. The producer's son, Michael Scott Bregman, wrote the script and directed the film, which will receive a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York the weekend after it streets, chiefly to drum up video sales.

“We have a $24 billion business that consumers absolutely love,” Kornblau said. “And yet there is very little content made only for this business.”

Next up: American Pie: Band Camp (Dec. 27), with Eugene Levy reprising his role.

Universal isn't alone. New Line Home Entertainment will resume making direct-to-video sequels next year, with follow-ups to the 1994 theatrical 8 Seconds, which starred Luke Perry, and last year's $57.7 million grosser The Butterfly Effect coming in 2006. Also on tap is a fifth “House Party.”

“There's a built-in fan base,” said Kevin Kasha, SVP of acquisitions and programming for New Line. “Right now, there's a lot of competition in the marketplace for shelf space, and going after sequels and other franchise or branded programming is really the only way you can generate enough noise.”

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has direct-to-video sequels to 1992's Single White Female and 1999's 8MM in the pipeline. Neither Single White Female 2: The Psycho, coming Oct. 25, nor 8MM2, due Nov. 22, feature any returning cast members from the originals. Even so, said division president Benjamin Feingold, “people know what they are getting.”

Lions Gate Home Entertainment also is harnessing franchise power, albeit in a different way. The supplier is expanding its lucrative “Barbie” line by releasing three different titles next year, up from two this year and one each in 2003, 2002 and 2001. The direct-to-video franchise has sold upwards of 13 million units and is spawning the launch of a new “Barbie Diaries” line next year.

“Franchising always has been important, but it's more important now,” said Lions Gate Entertainment president Steve Beeks. “The market is softening, the consumer is a little more discerning, and unless you have some brand recognition — some franchise power — it's going to be hard to break through the clutter.”

At Paramount Home Entertainment, president Meagan Burrows says the studio is “in the process of developing a new comedy label,” with several releases already in the pipeline, including a third “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” DVD. Paramount also has inked a multi-year “first look” worldwide agreement with Parallel Entertainment Pictures, producers of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again DVD, for six DVD premieres, a feature film and a new DVD starring Larry the Cable Guy.

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