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Urban Media establishes ‘Net niche for black pics

Co. provides distrib'n site for minority materials at UrbanMedia.com

Michael Jenkinson has turned the TV webs’ current minority malaise to his business advantage. Jenkinson’s Urban Media, which specializes in independent black movies, went online last week, marking completion of his multimedia business plan’s first phase, creating an economical means of distributing pics aimed at a significant but neglected niche.

Developed by Jenkinson, a former 20th Century Fox acquisition and production exec, Urban Media has acquired rights to more than 60 features and shorts. He is also investing in films in production and providing finishing funds in exchange for licensing rights.

“The Web seemed to me to provide the beginning of a solution for exploiting films aimed at the African-American audience,” Jenkinson said. UrbanMedia.com allows for “one-stop shopping. BET might be looking for a black, urban comedy. They can log on, find several options, sample them and, hopefully, select one to program.”

Jenkinson’s Urban Media model is banking on the flexibility, access and economics of the Internet. His site is geared toward the industry, allowing TV programmers, filmmakers and theatrical and video buyers to log on, access info on his film catalog, view trailers and, in some instances, watch complete movies.

Jenkinson believes the dearth of blacks and Hispanics on the fall TV sked underlines the difficulty that minority-themed material now faces in reaching an audience, as shrinking profit margins at the nets have caused a shift toward the largest viewing demographic. This change has, however, opened the door for companies to target specific segments of the population.

“It’s not unlike the studio situation with execs leery of non-genre black films,” Jenkinson said. “They just don’t see evidence of the type of huge audience that they need to make those films profitable for them. But new technologies allow for a more cost effective means of distribution and promotion that allows those films to be commercially viable.”

The online site is designed to grow and adapt in whatever way the Web evolves, Jenkinson explained. “No one knows for sure whether the economic model will favor pay-per-view or link into cable or create a new system unique to itself. What’s clear is that it is a viable way for all sorts of product to reach the audience most likely to respond to it in a way that makes sense and works for everyone involved in the process.”

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