Vet trio’s DVDs aimed at blacks, Latinos

First Family to exclusively produce 4 to 5 titles per year

HOLLYWOOD — Entertainment industry veterans Dean Valentine, Richard Cohen and Nicholas Van Dyk have become the latest to jump into the business of producing programming exclusively for DVD.

The trio of execs has formed First Family Entertainment to develop and produce niche-oriented programming for family audiences that will premiere on DVD. Most will be live-action comedy films geared toward African-American and Hispanic audiences with budgets of about $2 million-$3 million each.

First Family has an exclusive worldwide, multiyear output deal with MGM.

Former Walt Disney Television and TV Animation topper and founding UPN CEO Valentine came up with the idea for First Family last year after his consortium’s bid to purchase the Henson properties fell through.

Valentine, a father of two children under the age of 5, saw an opportunity to fill a niche for high-quality family entertainment on DVD and called in Cohen, who was a colleague at Disney before serving as president of MGM Home Entertainment 1994-2000, and Van Dyk, most recently exec VP and chief strategic officer of Artisan Entertainment.

Cohen and Van Dyk will serve as partners in First Family, with Valentine as senior partner.

Valentine said that with most major studios focusing their energy on genre-based tentpole films, family entertainment gets little attention. “Even Disney isn’t producing more than one or two animated pictures every year,” he said.

First Family will produce four to five titles per year with the first release, tentatively slated for early 2005, derived from properties controlled by the MGM library, Valentine said.

As programming produced exclusively for DVD has grown to a market of nearly $3 billion annually, driven by multiple DVD premiere movies — most based on popular theatrical franchises — by studios such as Disney, Warner and Universal, other studios such as MGM and Fox have followed suit in recent months by greenlighting original productions and appointing production and acquisition executives.

First Family’s agreement with MGM also includes a first-look deal for the studio relative to any First Family TV and feature projects, though Valentine emphasized that the company plans to focus primarily on DVD. “We have no current plans to do features or television,” he said. First Family may also produce original programming not based on MGM library material.

While at UPN, Valentine witnessed the success of evening programming targeted at urban audiences but noticed that nothing like it existed on homevideo.

“DVD is really the core of the entertainment industry right now,” said Cohen, who most recently was president of Tremaine Associates, an entertainment media consultancy and before that was general manager of RealNetworks’ consumer division. “It’s making money, growing rapidly, and it’s really a perfect technology for home entertainment. We’re just observing the obvious here.”

Simone Kaplan is a reporter for Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.

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