U builds Franchise around Feola

Realignment is second major consolidation of divisions

As part of the ongoing post-merger reorganization of Universal Studios, the studio is setting up an entity called Universal Pictures Franchise Development, a strategic alliance of three Universal divisions — Universal Studios Consumer Products and its two specialty production units, Universal Home Entertainment Prods. (UHEP) and Universal Pictures Visual Programming — to maximize the value of its franchise properties.

As part of the reorganization, Louis Feola has been tapped president of UPFD and will report to studio vice chairman Marc Shmuger and to Universal Pictures prexy and chief operating officer Rick Finkelstein.

Feola previously was president of Universal Family & Home Entertainment Production (now Universal Home Entertainment Prods.), which was set up in 1998 to grow U’s family entertainment and direct-to-video business.

All staff of the new division report to Feola.

The strategic realignment is the second major consolidation of divisions under the Universal Pictures banner, and comes on the heels of the decision by U Consumer Products president Cynthia Cleveland to step down July 1 and the decision to realign the TV distribution operations under the Universal Pictures umbrella, with TV operations now reporting to Finkelstein.

The consumer products division previously reported to Universal Studios exec VP Hellene Runtagh, who recently left the studio. In the interim, consumer products has reported to Ron Meyer, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios.

Firing on all pistons

“Our intention in creating this new division is to create a great engine for driving growth and revenues across our properties, to give us the strategic advantage of looking at properties with a broader perspective than we have done in the past,” Shmuger told Daily Variety.

Shmuger, who was promoted to vice chairman of the film unit from marketing chief in December, has oversight of Universal Pictures’ Internet activities, as well as international distribution and its coordination with domestic distribution and all aspects of worldwide marketing. Shmuger and Finkelstein also share oversight for U Pictures’ business development and strategic planning.

Under the umbrella of the new entity, U will continue to exploit its existing franchises, including the animated direct-to-video series “The Land Before Time” and the recently announced animated TV series “The Mummy,” as well as exploring franchise opportunities, including those from upcoming pic properties such as “The Scorpion King.”

Consumer Products will continue to develop licensing and merchandising properties for feature films, including the studio’s upcoming “Jurassic Park III” and “Josie and the Pussycats.”

Crossing platforms

“As part of Stacey Snider’s team in motion pictures, this new organization is poised to build greater value for the company and increase efficiency as we even more aggressively exploit our franchises across all media, including theatrical, television, direct-to-video, games, and the Internet,” Meyer said in a statement.

Before becoming president of Universal Home Entertainment Prods., Feola was worldwide president of Universal Studios Home Video from 1992-98. A 20-year veteran of the studio, he began his career in 1978 and has held a number of senior management positions in homevideo.

UHEP is involved in the development and production of direct-to-video movies, live-action and animated TV and original programming for the Internet.

UPVP develops and produces special-interest, feature-length, direct-to-video movies and animated TV. Its productions include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s live theater production “Cats,” Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and the dance review “Burn the Floor.”

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