Indie will distrib Genius DVD catalog

Vivendi Entertainment is taking over the core home entertainment distribution operations of Genius Products and acquiring distribution rights to Genius’ biggest DVD franchises, including World Wrestling Entertainment and “Sesame Street.”

As a result of the deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, Vivendi’s DVD catalog is expected to grow 200% to more than 3,000 titles, with the company becoming a much stronger force in indie distribution. Its first releases under the new arrangement include “Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days” and “WWE Presents: Hulk Hogan’s Unreleased Collector’s Series,” both bowing in November.

The Weinstein Co. is in talks with a number of video distributors for its new- release theatricals.

Until early this year, Genius was majority-owned by TWC, and it has distributed TWC titles to retail. Sources said Vivendi will assume distribution of TWC’s catalog and its direct-to-video titles. TWC, Vivendi and Genius all declined to comment on distribution of the TWC titles.

Vivendi expects the deal will give it a larger presence at retail with its expanded lines, an increasingly important strategy as the major studios continue to crowd out indies on retail shelves.

“It allows us to expand our footprint at retail beyond our existing one,” said Vivendi prexy Tom O’Malley. “We are going to have very significant brands. We think we will be the preeminent home for independent content. We will be an ideal place for the best brands.”

In the deal, Vivendi, a division of Universal Music Group Distribution, also wins distribution of the Classic Media line, which includes faith-based hit “Veggie Tales,” and RHI Entertainment, which includes “Lonesome Dove” and dozens of other TV movies and miniseries. Vivendi also will distribute Genius’ own DVD library, which includes the arthouse Wellspring line, and future releases for an unspecified number of years.

Last year, Vivendi added a theatrical distribution arm to handle eight to 14 films per year.

As part of the deal, Genius will remain in operation and will continue to oversee distribution of its non-DVD products, such as videogames, albeit as a very different company from its high-profile peak, when it housed about 200 employees.

To help manage the influx, Vivendi has hired several Genius executives, including naming Mitch Budin exec VP-general manager of Vivendi Home Entertainment.

(Susanne Ault writes for Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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