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U stokes homevid stocks

Studio returns to 'Land' well

Universal will resume its long-running animated straight-to-DVD movie franchise “The Land Before Time” on Jan. 11 with the release of the 11th feature-length installment, “Invasion of the Tinysauruses,” featuring the voices of Michael Clarke Duncan and Camryn Manheim.

The studio already has a 12th “Land Before Time” installment in the works, has set a date of Feb. 1 for straight-to-vid pic “Balto III: Wings of Change” and recently wrapped shooting on “American Pie 4,” with series co-stars Eugene Levy and Chris Owen, which will also premiere on DVD, most likely in 2006.

The slate of original homevideo movies follows a year in which Universal Studios Home Entertainment created a plethora of special edition DVDs and marketing campaigns tied to new theatrical releases in franchises and series from “The Bourne Identity” and “Meet the Parents” to “Van Helsing” and “The Chronicles of Riddick.”

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The “Land Before Time” franchise has generated more than $1 billion on sales of over 60 million units worldwide since Steven Spielberg’s original theatrical release in 1988 followed by the first homevideo sequel in 1994; the studio’s 2004 release “Bring It On Again” generated more than $33 million to rank among the top three live-action straight-to-DVD movies of all time.

Company released a special edition of “American Wedding” featuring new programming produced for the DVD that wound up generating nearly $170 million in homevid sales and rentals on a movie that grossed $104 million at theaters — and sparked sales of an additional 1 million copies of “American Pie” and “American Pie 2.”

In the wake of that success, USHE timed special editions of “The Bourne Identity” and “Meet the Parents” to theatrical sequels. With “Identity” already one of the top DVDs of 2003, a revised DVD called “The Bourne Identity Explosive Edition,” with an alternate beginning and ending, sold an additional 1 million units to become a top seller the same week “The Bourne Supremacy” opened at No. 1 in theaters.

Despite total sales of nearly 9 million copies for the original homevid release of “Meet the Parents,” the studio recently shipped nearly three quarters of a million units of “Meet the Parents Bonus Edition” timed to last month’s theatrical release of “Meet the Fockers.”

USHE also made the most of the studio’s most historic franchise — monster and horror films — by releasing a “Monster Legacy” DVD gift set, an unrated director’s cut of “Pitch Black” (1 million unit sales) and original animated DVD featurettes tied to the theatrical releases of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “Van Helsing.” Despite disappointing theatrical performance on both films, the studio wound up selling more than 3 million DVDs of “Riddick” and more than 6 million videos and DVDs of “Van Helsing,” as well as more than 3 million copies of the remake of the classic horror film “Dawn of the Dead.”

With few theatrical franchise sequels coming in 2005 to allow USHE to duplicate the DVD coattail strategy, the studio is returning the focus to its DVD premiere movie franchises beginning next week.

It will also exploit the TV library of its new owner, NBC, with 43 TV series planned for 2005. Early series titles include this week’s “Las Vegas: Season One” and “Miami Vice Season One” (Feb. 8), to be followed later this year by classics such as “Leave It to Beaver.”