MGM launches direct-to-video unit

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MGM has become the latest studio to jump into the lucrative direct-to-video business, hiring Jason Weiss to oversee a new division charged with the development and production of 12 or more films a year.

Weiss assumes the title of vp at the new unit. He reports to Charlie Cohen, MGM senior executive vp finance and corporate development.

Weiss is a 12-year veteran of feature film production. He was at MTV Films, where he oversaw 25 projects, including such titles as "The Dirt," "Black Hole," "The Suffering," "Runnin'," "Born to Rock" and "The Wheelman."

The announcement was made by MGM COO Rick Sands, who praised Weiss for his "breadth of experience, coupled with his ability to develop projects based on marketplace and cultural trends."

"As consumers around the globe continue to want to view films in both the cinema and as well as in their homes, the demand for quality direct-to-video productions will only increase," Sands said. "One of MGM's primary activities is to continually replenish as well as maximize revenue from its large catalog of film and television programming."

There's no word yet on specific projects or when the first direct-to-video productions from the new MGM division will be released.

Before joining MTV Films, Weiss oversaw production and development at Paramount Pictures and New Regency Prods. He supervised a range of films, including "Along Came a Spider," "Don't Say a Word," "Runaway Jury," "Just My Luck" and "Daredevil."

Most other major studios already are aggressive players in the direct-to-video market, which is an outgrowth of the widening swath of distribution channels, both physical and electronic, as well as the flattening of the DVD growth curve.

During the past 12 years, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released more than 200 direct-to-video titles, both acquisitions and productions. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment are aggressively mining their theatrical catalogs for hit movies worthy of direct-to-video sequels. And Warner Bros. in August launched a dedicated direct-to-video division, Warner Premiere, that is headed by veteran marketing executive Diane Nelson, previously executive vp global brand management. The unit's blueprint calls for the production of up to 15 original films a year, beginning with the prequel "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning," due March 13.
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