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Ventura Summit Spotlights Niche Product

17 Feb, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Ventura executives at the Summit included: Chris Lynch, EVP; Bill Ott, Canada; Larry Hayes, chairman, CEO; Jim Weatherson, EVP & GM; Eric Doctorow, COO ; Craig Sussman, co-principal.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The fourth annual Ventura Summit underscored the growing clout of niche and genre product.

Executives with 17 of Ventura Entertainment Enterprises' owned or distributed labels met with more than two dozen key retailers, including buyers for Best Buy, Musicland, Amazon.com and Fred Meyer, to talk up product ranging from performance comedy, music and championship poker to anime, documentaries and extreme sports.

“We like to focus on niche categories and see them move into the mainstream,” said Larry Hayes, the former record company executive who founded Ventura in 1993 and has since grown the company into the No. 9 supplier of home video products, right behind Lions Gate Entertainment, with a market share estimated at 1.7 percent.

Naser Kamal, senior buyer for Amazon.com, said he came to the summit to spot trends and find out what's new. “We are a unique company because we carry everything,” he said. “The presentations are stellar.”

Eric Doctorow, the former Paramount Home Entertainment president who was hired last October as Ventura's COO, noted that 19 percent of the sellthrough business now comes from sales of non-feature film product. According to an Adams Media Research study, based on Nielsen VideoScan numbers and commissioned by Ventura, nontheatrical children's video accounts for the largest chunk (46 percent), but several other categories have experienced sharp growth in the last four years.

At the top of the growth chart is Spanish-language programming, which has grown a whopping 1,773 percent since 2000 but still has a market share of only 1 percent.

“We see tremendous growth potential with Latino product, and intend to become the dominant force in that category,” Doctorow said.

Other genres that have experienced sharp growth over the past four years are urban (735 percent), documentaries (260 percent) and music DVD (102 percent).

Several Ventura labels held their own presentations, including StudioWorks, which recently inked a half dozen new TV deals, mostly offbeat fare such as “The Damn! Show,” with Yucko the Clown of “The Howard Stern Show” fame, and Latino comic Carlos Mencia, who starts his own Comedy Central show in late May in the time slot immediately following the top-rated “Chappelle's Show.”

Distributed labels represented included Showtime Home Entertainment. Sales VP Tom Sykes said he hooked up with Ventura four years ago to augment traditional distribution and credits the company with “getting us into the sellthrough market.”

Rob Gold, Ventura's VP of marketing services, said the annual summit gives the company's various labels a chance to connect with key retailers in a more intimate way than trade shows.

“This is not about ordering UPC No. 1605,” he said. “It's more about how we can work together on programs and systems and relationships. It lets retailers know who we are and put a face with that UPC number.”

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