U homevid units in family way

Studio to focus on kid-friendly fare

Universal Pictures is restructuring its various home-entertainment production units in a plan that will see the studio producing more pics, with a revved-up focus on family fare.

The various production units — which will produce animation and live-action as well as acquire films — fall under the domain of homevid prexy Craig Kornblau.

He has hired Glenn Ross as general manager-exec VP of Universal Studios Home Entertainment Family Prods. Ross, most recently at Lions Gate, will handle day-to-day oversight of increased development, production and acquisitions of family programming for DVD and TV.

In August, the studio announced that it would be restructuring Universal Home Entertainment Prods., Universal Cartoon Studios and Universal Pictures Visual Programming. It also announced the exit of Louis Feola, who headed the unit since its creation in 1998.

The various units, with more than three dozen employees combined, have been in limbo ever since. Feola has remained in place to oversee the transition, which he will continue to do for a short time as Ross comes aboard.

Universal Cartoon Studios will remain intact and become a part of Family Prods. London-based Visual Programming will be folded into Universal Pictures Intl., with Visual president Hugh Rees-Parnall reporting to UPI president Pete Smith.

Kornblau noted that the kids/family market has expanded to include PG and PG-13 movies such as “Spider-Man.” Ross added that the market is growing thanks to portable DVD players, players in SUVs for kids and the growth of handheld game devices that play video programming on mini-discs.

The studio will more aggressively exploit the NBC Universal catalog of movies and TV programs to create franchise extensions. For example, the “Curious George” kidlit series is being adapted into an early-2006 theatrical release and the material is being developed as a TV series aimed at PBS in late summer/fall 2006. The DVD of the movie will likely be released before the series, with the possibility of an additional direct-to-DVD “George” pic.

Kornblau declined comment about the prospect for layoffs as a result of the various changes but said the creation of the family division could spur new hiring.

“This is not a restructuring to save money; this is about growth,” Kornblau said. “This is the first time we’ve had a dedicated single-focus effort against the family business. We thought the timing was just right, in terms of video hitting ultimate and mass penetration.”

The U groups have produced the animated straight-to-DVD “American Tail” and “Land Before Time” franchise features; live-action works including sequels to “Beethoven,” “Slap Shot” and “Tremors”; animated TV series “The Mummy” and “Sitting Ducks”; and the first Woody the Woodpecker TV series in more than 20 years.

Ross was exec veep of Lions Gate Home Entertainment (formerly Artisan), where he oversaw all DVD productions and marketing for the division.

(Eliza Gallo is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.)

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