Lightyear Entertainment’s 25-year Journey21 May, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey
You could call 2009 Lightyear Entertainment’s 25th anniversary, although Arnie Holland, co-founder, owner and CEO, admits it all depends on when you start counting.
Do you start 25 years ago when it began as RCA Video Productions, serving up product for the RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video joint venture? Or do you start in 1987, after RCA was sold to General Electric and Holland organized a management buyout for the company and its catalog, and renamed it?
Either way, “it’s been quite a haul,” Holland said from Lightyear’s New York City offices. “We’ve had to reinvent ourselves many times over the years. Once upon a time we were a music company that did a little bit of the movies. Now we’re a movie company that does a little music.”
Remember vinyl video or RCA Video Discs? Holland does. He came on scene at RCA in 1981 (after spending seven years at Capitol Records).
“By the end of ’83 we realized that vinyl video was dead,” he said of the grooved playback technology.
So, with the blessing of the RCA parent corporation, on Jan. 1, 1984, RCA Video Productions was formed, with the express purpose of creating productions to feed the growing home video market. The company’s early fare was mostly music and concert videos for acts like Hall and Oates, The Allman Brothers Band and Diana Ross, and workout videos.
It was the introduction and success of the Jane Fonda Workout series early in Holland’s RCA career (1982) that launched what would become Lightyear. To this day Lightyear is still involved in more than a dozen Fonda titles.
“We started doing well after that. If it wasn’t for the Jane Fonda Workout series, we wouldn’t have a company,” he said. “We’re eternally grateful to her.”
Lightyear continued as a production company until 1991, when it repurposed itself primarily as a distribution company. In 1995 Warner Home Video came knocking, eyeing the Jane Fonda videos, Holland said, and Lightyear stuck with them as a distribution partner for 13 years.
Today, seeking more VOD channels for its independent lineup, Lightyear is partnered with Vivendi/Universal, releasing 2-3 titles a month. Lightyear is home to 15 films produced by Jean-Claude La Marre, including the Pastor Jones series, and a half-dozen African-American films from Marcello Thedford (Thug Love and the “Keepin’ the Faith” movies). The catalog also includes animated titles, and although Lightyear sold most of its Elvis Presley programs back to The King’s estate, the company still owns its self-produced Elvis ’56 title.
Coming July 7 is the comedy See Dick Run, and in August Lightyear will street both English- and Spanish-language discs for Veritas, Prince of Truth, a family adventure film voiced by telenovela stars. Lightyear will have video game tie-ins to Veritas on its Web site, www.lightyear.com.
For the future, Holland sees retail space shrinkage and the ease of consumer disc copying as the two biggest hurdles the industry needs to overcome. For Lightyear, the answers lie in being an aggressive adopter of VOD and digital distribution.
“Those seem to be the keys to the future, especially for independent film,” he said.