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Artisan spins web

Bows fund for new-media arm

Artisan Entertainment Wednesday launched iArtisan, an investment fund with $50 million in seed money from several financial partners. Fund is part and parcel of a new unit called Artisan Digital Media, aimed at coordinating and expanding the company’s online reach and finding the latest technology for a digital world.

Artisan’s exec VP and chief strategic officer Nicolas van Dyke, who will run the new division, said iArtisan’s investments will range from $1 million to $5 million and that he expects to clinch a few deals before pic “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” comes out in late October.

The innovative Web site for the original “The Blair Witch Project” in the summer of 1999 is credited with drawing huge numbers of fans to theaters.

Several entertainment giants like News Corp. and Time Warner have set up similar financial vehicles to invest in promising new-media companies and strike strategic alliances in the digital space. Artisan said it’s the first movie studio to do so.

IPO planned

The mini-major, which is planning an initial public stock offering later this fall, said private equity firms Grove Street Advisors and Audax Ventures are primary backers of the fund, putting up two-thirds of the cash. Audax is an affiliate of Audax Entertainment, the largest shareholder in Artisan Entertainment.

Artisan Digital will oversee all of the company’s Internet initiatives including home entertainment e- commerce, promotional alliances and the extension of content online. The unit will work closely with the theatrical marketing department on film Web sites and act as a service center to Artisan’s other business units — namely, Artisan Pictures, Artisan Home Entertainment and Artisan Television.

Van Dyke said iArtisan’s will focus on so-called enabling or infrastructure investments dealing with practical matters like digital rights management that can protect intellectual property online, analog to digital conversion, and facilitating interactive video distribution.

If the Internet “is a racetrack with horses running around it, not all the horses will make it. But the contractors hired to build the racetrack will still be around,” Van Dyke said.

Dominic Ianno, formerly an exec with Sony Music Online, has joined Artisan Digital Media as senior VP of strategic marketing and business development.

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