TWC, Genius team on children's videos

The Weinstein Co. and its Genius Products homevid arm are going into business with the owners of “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Veggie Tales,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “He-Man” and a slew of other popular properties.

Company has inked a deal with Entertainment Rights, a British-based owner of kids brands, that will encompass homevideo, digital and vidgame rights.

ER recently announced a deal to acquire U.S. firm Classic Media. As a result, hundreds of brands and as many as 4,000 popular programs could fall under the combined ER and Classic libraries. Execs caution the ER-Classic deal has not yet been finalized.

As part of the TWC pact, Genius will distribute all the ER and Classic properties on homevid in North America. Between six and 12 new titles likely will be released annually.

Also under the deal, the Weinstein Co. and Genius will co-finance and co-produce a host of homevid content, with TWC taking the lead on those projects.

Companies could concentrate on original episodes and films of established American brands such as “Gumby” and “The Lone Ranger” as well as seek to increase the popularity for lesser-known U.K. properties.

Previously, ER’s brands had limited homevid exposure in the U.S.

Many of the Classic properties were distribbed via Sony Wonder.

ER has more U.K.-centric properties than Classic, including popular British programs such as “Postman Pat” and “Rupert Bear,” as well as deals for select American properties it recently bought as part of the Filmation library, such as “He-Man,” “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “Barbie.”

Classic is known for “Lassie,” “Casper,” “Richie Rich,” “Gumby” and “Pat the Bunny.” Deal covers digital rights for many of the programs and will include production and distribution rights for as many as a dozen vidgames based on the properties.

One of the ER properties, “She Ra,” could see digital and mobile releases, companies said.

TWC veep of production and development Eric Robinson will oversee the deal for the company.

For Genius, which has been seeking to develop content in a number of categories, deal brings total number of titles in its library to nearly 3,000 and considerably ramps up the content in its family and faith-based line of products.

“This gets us very close to where we want to be (in that area),” said Genius prexy-CEO Trevor Drinkwater.

Lifestyle is the next area on which Genius will concentrate, Drinkwater said.

Genius stock price closed Friday at $3, topping its five-year high.

Closing price of Genius Inc. implies a market cap for Genius LLC at $613 million, which would value TWC’s 70% stake in the company at $430 million.

Strength of Genius is central to the Weinstein Co., which has a 70% stake in the firm and has used it as a key instrument in its goal of building a homevid library.

Genius has made a number of significant deals in the past few months, including distribution and production deals with the likes of Robert Halmi’s RHI.

Key to this deal will be the ability of the companies to get exposure in platforms outside homevid.

Companies already are in a strong position: ER topper Mike Heap estimates his firm has nearly 50 shows based on its properties currently airing on British TV, while Classic has about 25 on U.S. television, including the popular faith-based animated skein “Veggie Tales.”

Companies also hope to capitalize on exposure in other venues, including TV and feature film projects, for such brands as “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” as well as other licensing opportunities.

“We really want to create a cohesive whole and get these brands on every platform,” Heap said.

Heap said the company would try to export its British programs to the U.S. He pointed to the success of British hit “Bob the Builder” in the U.S. as a reason to believe properties could make the trans-Atlantic leap.

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