For the longest time, when the name Anchor Bay Entertainment came up, your first thoughts were of Evil Dead, Halloween and “Masters of Horror.”
Today it’s Law Abiding Citizen, City Island and the Starz Originals “Spartacus: Blood and Sand.”
“Anchor Bay is synonymous with the horror genre, and that’s been our bread and butter. We’ll never abandon our horror roots,” said Bill Clark, company president. “But we saw an opportunity in the marketplace, our ability, with our Starz partners, to open up a destination point for independent films.”
In late 2008, the company formed a new theatrical film unit and label, Anchor Bay Films, offering independent filmmakers a highly collaborative and fully integrated international distribution capability. With this new unit, as well as titles from parent company Starz and sister company Overture, Anchor Bay has raised its profile considerably, streeting less theatrical catalog and TV on DVD to focus on bigger fare. With Kevin Kasha heading acquisitions, Anchor Bay has made more than 30 acquisitions in just over a year, and for the last two weeks of February, Anchor Bay’s Law Abiding Citizen won the triple crown of home video sales, finishing first in DVD and Blu-ray sales, as well as rental.
“We’ve gone after films that are much more commercially star-driven and really have become the only provider of quality fully integrated distribution — DVD, Blu-ray, digital, premium pay and TV platforms — across multiple territories for independent films,” Clark said. “Anchor Bay is truly a one-stop shopping solution for the industry.”
Anchor Bay continues to grow, in a market where consolidation or closure is happening at every turn. They are picking acquisitions based on potential, not genre and have become a force in theatrical as well as other ancillary markets.
“We’ve been prepared to take on major theatrical projects for years, and we’re finally there,” said Ray Zinar, EVP of sales worldwide. “There’s a big difference between where we are now and where we were in 2006.”
In just the past two months Anchor Bay has acquired After.Life (April 9 in theaters) with Liam Neeson, Christina Ricci and Justin Long; Solitary Man (slated for May 21; picked up at the Toronto Film Festival) with Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker and Danny DeVito; Abandoned, featuring the late Brittany Murphy in her final leading role; Operation Endgame with Zach Galifianakis, Rob Corddry and Ellen Barkin; and the British CGI children’s property "Chuggington."
Prior to that, Anchor Bay announced two Steve Austin films, The Stranger and Hunt to Kill, and Broken Lizard’s The Slammin’ Salmon.
“We’re uniquely positioned with Anchor Bay Films,” Clark said. “We’re the only one with this level of quality that represents a viable alternative for the release of films outside of the studio system.”
June will see The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which will also be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
“That’s a fantastic gem of a movie,” said Kevin Kasha, SVP of acquisitions. “It’s one that we really believe has a theatrical upside.”
On March 19 the comedy City Island, starring Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies and Alan Arkin, opened in New York and Los Angeles, with more than two dozen markets up next.
“Now we can get films with real star power,” Kasha noted. “And with our Anchor Bay team we give the stars and filmmakers a seat at the table. This type of independent filmmaking offers a personal touch and gives us a leg up on the competition. We have a lot of fun with what we do. We love movies, and that comes across to the directors and producers.”
That’s a common theme at Anchor Bay: The input of filmmakers and stars is taken seriously from theatrical to home video, they said.
“Our niche in theatrical distribution is our filmmakers are very involved in the process,” said Gordon Prend, EVP of worldwide marketing. “Our stars and filmmakers are very passionate about these films, and it pays off when you have talent like Garcia getting so involved.”
For example, after some prompting from Anchor Bay, Law Abiding Citizen director F. Gary Gray agreed to only have his unrated director’s cut of the film included on the Blu-ray.
“People were e-mailing us saying they got a Blu-ray player specifically for that title,” Prend said. “That was a big marketing strategy that really worked.”
According to Nielsen research, 28% of Law Abiding Citizen’s first-week sales were generated from Blu-ray. Anchor Bay had 32 Blu-ray releases in 2009, and is on pace for nearly 60 for 2010.
Zinar credits not only the relationships Anchor Bay’s sales team has established with retailers (more than 50 accounts, at last count), but also the internal cohesion of the unit.
“We constantly overperform at retail, and it’s been an incredible effort by our team, pre- and post-street date,” Zinar said. “We’ve grown tremendously since 2006 in the rental market. We’ve taken our market share up significantly, and we’ve found a great balance between rental and sellthrough.”
Clark credited the quality of content and the consistently upbeat relationship retailers have with Anchor Bay.
“We’re aggressively acquiring product adding to our library and are perhaps the leanest and most efficient DVD company in the industry,” Clark said. “We’ve consistently outperformed the market in the past few years. One thing that differentiates us is we’re not a cookie-cutter organization. We also monitor and track the title well after street date. We’re not a company that releases something and moves on.”
Packaging continues to be a key to Anchor Bay’s success, executives say, whether it’s a single-disc release or an epic boxed set.
“Packaging, for 99% of DVDs, is your No. 1 selling tool,” Prend said. “There’s so much impulse spending, it has to stand out at retail. Your packaging is a big player, and we’ve always tried to be compelling with the packaging of our titles. Just the O-cards we use with a new title is huge.”
And while horror will likely always remain a staple of Anchor Bay Entertainment — see Stan Helsing and its success at rental or the chilling and widely praised Dennis Quaid film Pandorum — just look at The Ultimate Fighting Championship series, the video game animation Dante’s Inferno and Capitalism: A Love Story to see the company’s commitment to diversity.
“Despite the recession and consumer spending problems, I’m happy to say we’re doing very well,” Clark said. “When we look to acquire product we don’t look at genre specific. We’re still very active in [the horror] genre. But we don’t just buy it because it’s horror.
“We’re moving in a great direction,” continued Clark. “We have some really unique things planned for our release of the Starz Originals show, ‘Spartacus’ that both retail and consumers will love.”
A recent win for Anchor Bay fitness was the March announcement of a Nintendo Wii game from Activision based on the long-running “10 Minute Solution” line. Anchor Bay has released more than 20 “10 Minute Solution” DVDs since 2002.
“We are proud that our proprietary fitness video brand is the first one to be licensed for a major game release — and not driven by a personality,” said Julie Cartwright, SVP brand manager.
Anchor Bay has secured major cross-promotions with fitness over the years, most notably in 2009 with “10 Minute Solution” and Kellogg’s Special K cereal, a partnership that’s been extended through 2010.
“We excel in fitness,” Cartwright said. “It may be a niche category, but with over eight years of consecutive growth in the category, it’s always a major focus for us.”
While other fitness lines were struggling, Anchor Bay saw fitness DVD sales up 24% year-over-year in 2009. Most recently, they’ve grown their business with celebrity products that have been big hits, such as Julianne Hough, Pussycat Dolls and Jackie Warner. They also distribute the world’s No. 1 walking expert and sales sensation, Leslie Sansone properties.
The cornerstone of the company’s fitness business, however, always has been the proprietary brands such as “10 Minute Solution,” “Dance Off the Inches” (since 2005) and “Element” (2007). The company develops and produces each line, which targets its own unique consumer demographic. Each brand boasts several national top 10 bestsellers with several hitting the No. 1 slot.
Anchor Bay is consistently ranked among the top three studios and are poised to increase their market share even more in the coming year with some major new acquisitions.
Further proof that Anchor Bay has spread its wings far can be found in the success of its children’s DVDs, most notably the wildly popular, Adobe Flash-animated Nick Jr. series “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”
“That has been such a great title for us,” Cartwright said. “Sales have been strong, and it only continues to gain momentum.”
Overall, Anchor Bay’s children’s category was up 22% year-over-year in 2009 during Halloween, and a whopping 250% during Christmas.
“We saw very strong replenishment,” Cartwright said.
Most recently Anchor Bay picked up the U.S. distribution rights to the British CGI series “Chuggington,” which recently made its debut on Playhouse Disney. A combination of education and entertainment, the series follows a series of young trains as they grow up.
“Parents will welcome ‘Chuggington’ as something for their children to enjoy, and for them to watch as well,” Kasha said.
Established in the 1980s as Video Treasures, the company changed its name to Anchor Bay Entertainment in the mid-1990s, when it began acquiring the rights to such titles as Evil Dead, Halloween and Dawn of the Dead, establishing itself as the leader in horror DVD.
In 2002 it was the first company to be awarded a Special Achievement Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, and the company has constantly earned awards and accolades for its DVD packaging, most recently for the second season of the “Masters of Horror” TV series.
In 2006 Anchor Bay parent IDT Entertainment was purchased by Liberty Media’s Starz LLC, which was renamed Starz Home Entertainment. The Anchor Bay Entertainment name returned after a year of being a label under Starz Home Entertainment.
Today, the company distributes films from its Anchor Bay Films label established in 2008 as well as product from its sister division, Overture, and parent company Starz.