Gaiam picks Sondheim to drive it home

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Veteran executive Bill Sondheim has returned to the home entertainment fold after less than two years on the music side. Sondheim has been tapped as president of lifestyle media company Gaiam's home entertainment division, including marketing and sales, operations, programming and acquisitions.

Sondheim's official title is president of direct-response marketing and trade distribution. But his primary responsibility will be to maintain Gaiam's dominant presence in the fitness business and build the company's home entertainment operations, acquiring more content and expanding worldwide distribution of its product.

"Throughout my career, I've been able to drive companies' growth and build stronger, more lucrative businesses," Sondheim said. "I hope to do the same for Gaiam by increasing the company's acquisition activities, focusing on acquiring mainstream labels with a unique culture and worldwide distribution."

"Bill brings us more than 20 years of industry-specific experience, with an intimate relationship with the fitness and wellness market," Gaiam president Lynn Powers said. "His strong connections in entertainment and home video will help take Gaiam's businesses to the next level. We are excited for him to join the team. Sondheim's diverse background, experience and accomplishments will enable him to provide value and impact for the Gaiam brand."

Sondheim most recently headed Sony BMG's worldwide DualDisc initiative. From 2000-December 2004, he was president of GoodTimes Entertainment, a leading supplier of budget, family, children's and fitness videos that Gaiam subsequently acquired. Before that, he had been president of PolyGram Video.

Sondheim said one of his key goals is to "bring more content into this company in the categories we already play with," such as Christian, family, children's and fitness. Gaiam's catalog includes a healthy assortment of yoga and Pilates DVDs, the top-selling "Billy Blanks" line of fitness videos, Christian titles like "Charlton Heston Presents the Bible" and the "Good Sports Gang" franchise, and the "Benji" movies.

Sondheim said he also wants to create line extensions out of Gaiam brands, taking entertainment properties and creating toys and other consumer products. Third on his agenda is to develop branded Gaiam store-within-a-stores, similar to what the company has already done in such big retailers as Barnes & Noble and the Wild Oats grocery chain.

"Gaiam has done two things that are really unique," Sondheim said. "The company has been really successful in taking brands and expanding them into entirely new businesses, like taking yoga and developing it beyond videos and books into a yoga fitness equipment business that now controls 15 linear feet in every Target store. It's an equipment business that's very viable, and it has nothing to do with videos. If we take that same philosophy to, say, children's product, we can create extensions into toys, plush, etc., and have a very dynamic business.

"The second thing Gaiam has done that is very impressive is develop store-within-a-stores for different channels," he added. "Barnes and Noble, for example, wanted to be in the wellness and healthy lifestyle business, so Gaiam created stand-alone departments. That's a model we hope to expand in, as well."
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