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Homevideo Biz Showing Signs of Growth for Indies (EXCLUSIVE)

Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment locks down new deals with WWE, National Geographic, Discovery Communications as disc sales pick up.

Despite all the reports that the homevideo industry is in a decline, there are signs the biz is actually on an upswing.

Just this week, DreamWorks Animation surprised industryites when disc sales and downloads of “Rise of the Guardians” doubled internal expectations. Paramount Home Video released the film for the toon studio.

Now Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment, one of the industry’s largest independent homevid distributors, is seeing more demand for its titles, signaling a potentially lucrative year for the entertainment biz outside of theaters.

Its top-selling title last year was the Canal Plus-produced toonpic “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures,” which was released direct-to-video and features Melanie Griffith among the voices for the U.S. release. Pic has shifted almost 500,000 discs. Its sequel is also performing well since its release at the end of the first quarter.

GVE said sales across all its labels rose 15% in 2012, without revealing specific numbers. This comes despite the homevid biz ending 2012 flat with 2011 at $18 billion, according to the Digital Entertainment Group.

GVE’s sales are up again during the first quarter, “tracking more closely to the industry’s growth” so far this year, according to GVE prexy Bill Sondheim.

The uptick in sales come as GVE locks down new multiyear distribution deals with a number of its largest clients, including WWE, National Geographic, Salient Media, Sonar Entertainment, Televisa and Discovery Communications, with deals running three to five years. It’s also released product for Hallmark Channel, Jillian Michaels, NFL Films and Marvel Animation in the past.

GVE handles the physical and digital releases throughout the U.S., although some companies broker their own streaming deals with services like Netflix.

Its largest partner is WWE, for whom GVE distributes “WrestleMania” and other pay-per-views, as well as compilations from its library. WWE has pacts with 20th Century Fox and other distributors for titles, including its direct-to-video movies or theatrical releases like “The Call,” “Dead Man Down” and the upcoming “No One Lives.”

“WWE has been a true partner for us in every sense of the word,” Sondheim said. “With this deal, we are excited to continue our focus on building exciting cross-promotional and merchandising opportunities with our physical and on-line retailers and key WWE partners.”

GVE’s new deal with Sonar runs through September 2015. Companies have worked together since 2009, with GVE distributing 1,000 titles, including the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries, “Merlin” and “Gulliver’s Travels.”

GVE ended last year as the No. 1 independent and distributor of childrens, family, comedy, sports documentaries and special interest titles; and No. 2 among suppliers of non-theatrical titles (behind Warner Home Entertainment).

The extra shelf space and promotion of independent titles by Walmart and Target — eager to keep disc sales healthy — has helped prop up sales. But GVE also is seeing increases in revenue from Redbox and other rental ventures, as well as Amazon, where it’s improved how it promotes its titles to consumers through the e-tailer’s technology.

While digital is growing for GVE and the major studios (up 30% in 2012), “it’s still a significant minority of our business,” Sondheim said.

Digital sales grew 50% last year for the company, but it only represents 20% of GVE’s total business.

“It’s less sexy to talk about but the physical business continues to be vibrant and is making a slight recovery based on the broader industry data,” signaling a healthy outlook for the short to mid-term, Sondheim said.

Gaiam and Vivendi Entertainment merged in 2012, when Gaiam purchased the homevideo division from Universal Music Group Distribution.

Since then, “we’ve created a new culture that is working and response to the studios we represent and the retailers we distribute to,” Sondheim said.

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