Looking Back: 1997 — The Dawn of the DVD Era

Twenty-five years ago, the home entertainment industry was at a turning point. Videocassette rentals, the backbone of the business since it was launched in 1977, were in a slump as the novelty of renting movies wore off. Hoping to revive the business, a consortium of studio executives led by then-Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb developed a new business strategy that involved putting movies on a five-inch disc, which consumers would purchase rather than rent. The soon-to-be-launched DVD was the talk of CES 1997 in January, and dominated the show floor in July at the annual Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) convention. Not all studios were onboard, and few realized at the time just how enormously successful the DVD would be — and how it would ignite a digital revolution in entertainment that has given us streaming, Netflix and even the ability to watch movies on our phones.

Rapper DMX, Eric Roberts Star in Two Films Released to Home Audiences by The Asylum, Sondheim’s Greenfield Media

Sharknado producer The Asylum is releasing two films to home audiences in partnership with Greenfield Media, the company owned by industry veteran Bill Sondheim, whose credits include top leadership posts at PolyGram Video, USA Video and Cinedigm.

The first release, available Sept. 1, is the street-race thriller Fast & Fierce: Death Race, starring hip hop superstar DMX. The jet-fighter action film Wingmen Under Siege, with Eric Roberts, follows on Nov. 3.

Bill Sondheim

Asylum will handle digital distribution; Sondheim’s companies will distribute the titles on disc through Distribution Solutions. Fast & Fierce will only be available on DVD, while Wingmen will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

“A wide DVD release is never an easy decision these days,” said Asylum partner David Rimawi. “But when Bill and the Sony alum team at Distribution Solutions were excited about the titles, we knew we had a couple of hits on our hands.”

Sondheim added, “I have had the pleasure of working with The Asylum team for many years and their product always delivers powerful stories with great casts, which results in terrific sales. I am thrilled to bring these films to the mainstream market with the assistance of Distribution Solutions.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Fast & Fierce: Death Race follows Jack Tyson (DMX), who is near victory in an illegal street race from Mexico to California when a desperate woman jumps into his car. She asks him to help her escape from her violent boyfriend, the same gangster who organized the race.

Wingman Under Siege revolves around cadets on a secluded U.S. Air Force training base who must protect a gene-editing bioweapon from the Russian operatives who are desperate to seize the deadly viral agent at any cost.  Roberts stars as the masterly base colonel.

Bill Sondheim Exits Cinedigm After Five Years as President of Distributor’s Entertainment Group

Bill Sondheim has left independent content distributor Cinedigm Corp. after more than five years as president, industry sources told Media Play News.

Sondheim was not available for comment, but a Cinedigm publicist confirmed his departure and noted that he will not be replaced.

Sondheim for years has been a respected home entertainment executive, known for taking independent content and exploiting it across multiple distribution channels. He has long advocated that digital is the future but physical remains viable.

Sondheim had his duties expanded last November when he was named president of worldwide distribution, charged with leading the company’s China/North America pipeline in addition to managing distribution in the rest of the world. He remained president of the Cinedigm Entertainment Group, overseeing all content rights management across all distribution channels that Cinedigm serves, including managing all sales of physical and digital goods to retail partners and all transactional and subscription digital outlets.

Cinedigm maintains a library of 50,000 films and TV episodes, and direct relationships with over 60,000 physical stores and digital retailers, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon. The company also provides feature films and series to Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as cable and satellite providers Comcast, Dish Network and DirecTV.

Subscribe HERE for the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Since Chinese investment firm Bison Capital completed a majority investment in Cinedigm in late 2017, Cinedigm has focused its efforts on creating a two-way flow of content between North America and China and has established deep relationships with leading Chinese content providers, streaming services, and government agencies, all under Sondheim’s guidance. Cinedigm recently announced the planned launch of a new OTT streaming service in North America called Bambu, bringing Chinese content to young, trend-setting Americans.

Before joining Cinedigm in October 2013, Sondheim was president of entertainment and worldwide distribution for Gaiam, later Gaiam Vivendi, which was ultimately sold to Cinedigm. From 2005 to 2007, he oversaw the development of Sony Music Entertainment’s dual disc technology initiative.

Before Sony, Sondheim was president of GT Brands LLC and, before that, president of Polygram Filmed Entertainment’s video distribution entity when it appeared PolyGram was on the cusp of becoming the seventh major, through hit theatrical movies like What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr., and The Game, with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. Those plans were dashed when the company was sold to Seagram Company Ltd. in 1998. Two years later, PolyGram Films was folded.

Sondheim has managed properties associated with the NFL, NBA, MLB, Reebok, Scholastic, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and fitness personalities including Jillian Michaels, Richard Simmons, and Kathy Smith.

Sondheim’s future plans remain unclear, but sources say he plans to remain in the business with a new venture.

Source say Bill Perrault, SVP of marketing for Cinedigm Entertainment Group, also has left.

In a news release issued shortly after Media Play News’ story about Sondheim’s departure, Cinedigm said the executive’s exit was one of several “leadership changes within the company’s Content Entertainment Group to reflect the company’s evolving focus on digital streaming and content aggregation following its recent announcement to acquire Future Today Inc., a leading OTT streaming video platform.”

The release noted that Sondheim will continue to provide the company with consulting services. No new president will be named; instead, the Content Entertainment Group will be led by EVP Yolanda Macías and SVP Dan Coyle.

“These moves continue the company’s efforts to streamline corporate structure and enhance management effectiveness and synergy,” Cinedigm said in the release.

Macías, a 25-year industry vet, is responsible for acquiring global content rights and oversees digital distribution across all world-wide platforms. Like Sondheim, she began her tenure at Cinedigm after the Gaiam Vivendi acquisition in 2013. Previously, Macías held executive positions at DIRECTV, Technicolor and the Walt Disney Company. She was also honored as one of the Top 50 Women in Business by the Los Angeles Business Journal and as one of Media Play News‘ 2018 Digital Drivers.

Coyle, too, joined Cinedigm after the company’s acquisition of Gaiam Vivendi in 2013. As SVP of sales, Coyle is responsible for strategic planning and sales of physical media for the company’s catalog of independent film and television titles. Coyle previously held the same position at Gaiam since 2005. Prior to Gaiam, he was VP of retail operations aat Goodtimes Entertainment, which he joined in 1991. There, he helped launch the first VMI program in the video industry.

Cinedigm Inks Content License Deal with China Lion

Cinedigm Jan. 23 announced it has entered into a non-exclusive content licensing agreement with China Lion to release more than 40 Chinese-language movies on the home entertainment distributor’s pending streaming channel, Bambu.

“This deal delivers dozens of very strong and well-known films, and perfectly complements the [China International TVCorporation]deal we recently announced, which was more TV episodic content,” Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group and worldwide distribution, said in a statement. “We are particularly pleased that the titles are all subtitled, allowing for the best representation of the original film versions and adds to the authentic high-profile content foundation for Bambu.”

Bambu’s primary focus is Gen Z demo (ages 16-24), and Millennial viewers (ages 25-35). Together, those viewers represent more than 27% of the U.S. population.

“When we started China Lion back in 2010, Cinedigm was our first strategic home entertainment partner,” said China Lion CEO Yanming Jiang.

The titles expected on the launch of Bambu include:


  • COCK AND BULL (2016)
  • EXPLOSION (2017)
  • A FOOL
  • FOREVER YOUNG (2015)
  • MR SIX
  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK (2016)
  • ONLY YOU (2015)
  • SWEET SIXTEEN (2016)
  • THE WITNESS (2015)

The deal follows Cinedigm’s recently-announced partnership with China International TVCorporationto bring more than 500 hours of Chinese content to the U.S. through Bambu, including “Nirvana in Fire,” TV ratings hit in China in 2015; documentary A Bite of China; “Journey to the West,” the most-watched show in Chinese television history, and current series, “The Advisors Alliance” and “Diamond Lover.”

A partnership with Youku to distribute 30 original Chinese feature filmsin North America on all platforms including Bambu, digital, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and across all OTT platforms, with a primary focus on major streaming platforms and niche outlets.

A content licensing agreement with Starrise Media Holdings Limited to release several Starrise productions on Bambu. The titles have not yet been announced.

Cinedigm Launching Chinese-Centric Bambu SVOD Service

Cinedigm Dec. 10 announced a content licensing agreement with Chinese entertainment company Starrise Media Holdings Limited for the pending over-the-top video platform Bambu in the United States. Title selections, the details of which have not yet been released, will be included as part of the Bambu launch in early 2019.

Bambu’s target users include Gen Z (ages 16-24) and millennial (ages 25-35). Those viewers represent over 27% of the U.S. population. This deal follows licensing partnerships with Chinese media companies Youku and China International TVCorporation.

“We believe that the innovative and creative content currently being produced in China can build a genuine fan base here in the U.S.,” Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group and international distribution, said in a statement.

Cinedigm content deals for Bambu, include partnership with CITC to bring more than 500 hours of popular local content to Bambu, including “Nirvana in Fire,” the most popular show in China in 2015; documentary series “A Bite of China,” and “Journey to the West,” the most-watched show in Chinese television history, and “The Advisors Alliance” and “Diamond Lover”.

A partnership with Youku to distribute 30 original Chinese feature filmsin North America on all platforms, including Bambu, digital, physical DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and across all OTT platforms, with a primary focus on major streaming platforms and niche outlets.

Bambu further advances the Cinedigm’s strategy for the bilateral flow of content and OTT streaming networks between North America and China. Additionally, the Los Angeles-based distributor believes Bambu is an important vehicle to provide audience feedback to Chinese producers working to produce films and television for a global audience.

This direct consumer data should help better inform the development process in China about the categories of entertainment content, stories and character that appeal most to an American and eventually global audience, according to Sondheim.

“Cinedigm is focused on delivering TV shows and movies that convey the current modern Chinese lifestyle which will provide a window into the country’s personality and potentially help build greater trust and understanding between our countries at this pivotal time in the relationships development,” he said.

Cinedigm’s Dove Channel Launches on Comcast Cable

Cinedigm Nov. 26 announced that its subscription video-on-demand service, Dove Channel, is now available similar to Netflix and YouTube via direct access on Comcast’s broadband-based Xfinity X1.

X1 subscribers can access Dove Channel’s library of family friendly movies, children’s programs, documentaries, and TV series, including new and noteworthy titles such as “A Christmas Kiss,” “1500 Steps,” and “Letters to God,” among others.

Xfinity X1 subscribers can access the service by saying “Dove Channel” into their X1 voice remote control or by finding it within the networks section of Xfinity on Demand. Dove Channel can be added to X1 customers’ service for $4.99 per month and included in the monthly cable bill.

Launched in September 2015, Dove Channel was created to offer programming, including children’s fare, that meets the content standards of The Dove Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.

“Cinedigm is pleased to bring our top-tier family-focused content to X1 and to reach even more viewers from coast-to-coast,” Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group, said in a statement. “Dove Channel offers unique values-based films and programs that are safe for the whole family and Xfinity X1 is the perfect home for this vast library of inspiring content.”




Cinedigm Partners With Chinese Streaming Channel Youku to Exclusively Distribute 30 Original Feature Films in North America

Cinedigm has announced a partnership with Chinese streaming service Youku to distribute 30 original Chinese feature films in North America on all platforms including digital, DVD and Blu-ray, and OTT, with a primary focus on major streaming platforms and niche outlets.

The films will also be included in the recently announced China-focused OTT channel Bambu that Cinedigm is launching later this year.

The films, never before seen in the United States or Canada, represent a wide range of Chinese film styles including urban thrillers, relationship-driven films, sci-fi fantasy, horror and costume fantasy, according to Cinedigm.

“We are excited to bring these innovative original films to the broad U.S. population in North America that are seeking new cutting-edge film productions from around the world,” said Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group. “These films offer a unique and exclusive viewing opportunity for fans of new production styles and emerging Asian creative talent that is quickly evolving into an important film genre. Cinedigm is committed to help nurture this growing production style and feel the broadening distribution and availability of Youku’s content in mainstream US streaming outlets will be an important catalyst. We are honored with the opportunity provided by Youku to bring these films to hungry outlets throughout the North American distribution ecosystem.”

“Youku is excited to enter this new relationship with Cinedigm to broaden our distribution into America,” said Doria Dai, Youku Pictures producer. “We continue to make compelling original movies and TV series and expect this new cooperation agreement will allow Youku to build an audience of fans in the high-profile American Market.”

The Youku deal is the latest development in Cinedigm’s strategy to forge relationships with China’s leading content producers and distributors. Other deals that Cinedigm is finalizing include licensing current hit TV shows and movies from CITVC, the international licensing arm of CCTV, China’s largest broadcaster; agreements with Shanghai Media Group, the largest regional producer and broadcaster in China; and a relationship with CICC (China Intercontinental Communication Center), according to Cinedigm.

DEG Meeting to Focus on Doing Business In, and With, China

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group is hosting a special membership meeting Sept. 25 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel in Los Angeles about doing business in and with China.

The meeting starts at 2 p.m. and will be followed at 5 p.m. by a networking session.

“Creative Collaboration with China” is hosted by Cinedigm, the film company majority-owned by Hong Kong private equity group Bison Capital.

Amy Jo Smith, president of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Cinedigm in January announced an alliance with leading China-based Starrise Media Holdings Ltd. to release movies in China theatrically and digitally. The deal also paved the way for Cinedigm to distribute Chinese films in North America.

“Part of DEG’s mission is to provide members with leading-edge knowledge and resources about emerging trends and technologies to prepare for growth,” said Amy Jo Smith, CEO and president of DEG. “In this vein, this program will delve into how media and entertainment companies in the U.S. and China can work more closely to refine storytelling and script development to improve content performance across existing and emerging distribution platforms, and how the evolving distribution landscape may affect future revenue potential for content in both markets.

In the keynote address, Cinedigm Entertainment Group president Bill Sondheim will provide introductory remarks. “We are making a concerted effort to build meaningful bridges between the U.S. and China film industries and I see great enthusiasm in China and Hollywood because both sides see economic benefits,” Sondheim told Media Play News.

Sondheim’s remarks will be followed by a “chat” with Cinedigm chairman and CEO Chris McGurk and Bill Mechanic, the former 20th Century Fox studio chief (and, before that, the home video head for the Walt Disney Co.) who now heads Pandemonium Films. Bennett Pozil, EVP of East West Bank, will moderate. Variety once said, “Pozil has become the go-to financier for those at the intersection of Hollywood and China’s film markets.”

The keynote will be followed by a panel discussion on distribution strategies, consumption patterns and content creation trends in China and the United States.

Panelists include Marc Gareton, EVP, International Asia-Pacific and International Productions for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment; Doris Pfardrescher, president and CEO of Well Go USA; and Daniel Solnicki, EVP, Business Operations, as NBCUniversal. Stewart Till will moderate.

In addition to the speakers, about 15 delegates traveling from China will attend, including representatives from the highest levels of government and companies like Tencent.

“We are very honored to have been able to develop this program as a knowledge exchange with Film and TV Import and Export Association (FTIEA) members from China and to host a delegation from FTIEA that has traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the program with U.S. producers, distribution experts and business development executives,” Smith said.

The meeting is free for DEG members. To RSVP, or to inquire about non-member attendance, email Shannon@degonline.org.

Home Entertainment Veteran Jon Barbour Dies

Home entertainment industry veteran Jon Barbour died July 26 after battling cancer.

Barbour was born and raised in Los Angeles.  After beginning his career in the music business, Barbour joined what was then RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in the mid-1980s as VP of production.  He was responsible for the creation of all audio-visual elements, including trailers, sales presentations and television spots.

In late 1990, along with former RCA/Columbia president Gary Khammar, Barbour formed Light Source & Imagery.  As partner and EVP, Barbour used the skills he developed at Columbia and produced countless video campaigns for many studios and networks, including Paramount, Sony, CBS, Universal and Fox.

With the advent of DVD, Light Source & Imagery, began producing special features for this new format.  Barbour was instrumental in the creation of hundreds of hours of content, including most of the Paramount’s DVD library.  In 2011, the company began producing feature-length documentaries and television programs. Barbour oversaw the development of numerous projects, including Warner Bros.’ 90th anniversary documentary and “Case Closed,” the CSI television special.

“All of us at Light Source & Imagery are at a loss for words on Jon’s passing,” Khammar told Media Play News. “His creativity, talent, humor and heart were the core elements of this company.  I am heartbroken to have lost such an amazing partner and dear friend.”

“I had the honor of working with Jon during my five years at RCA/Columbia,” said Bill Sondheim, president of the Cinedigm Entertainment Group. “During that time I saw his endless energy and passion for creative content and design that helped define the category of special features that drove the DVD box set revenue juggernaut for all studios.  Always the optimist, his infectious smile could energize any room. He will be missed by all.”

“I’ve known Jon Barbour since 1984, and I’ve only known him to be a kind, humorous and hardworking colleague and friend,” said Fritz Friedman, former SVP of worldwide publicity at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Friedman joined RCA/Columbia in 1980 in New York and later worked with Barbour on several marketing projects.

Barbour is survived by his two sons, Justin and Dylan.

LAES Keynoter Sondheim: Indies Must Maintain Legacy Disc Business While Embracing Digital Futures

Independent suppliers need to maximize existing businesses while embracing the new digital marketplace, said keynote speaker Bill Sondheim, president of the Cinedigm Entertainment Group, during his “State of the Industry” keynote presentation at the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit July 17.

The LAES event, held at the Loews Hollywood July 17-18, is presented by the Entertainment Merchants Association.

While “DVD and the physical formats in general will not be the longtime revenue drivers we’ve all enjoyed over the last 25 years,” he noted that there are “large demographics” that still like the medium because it is familiar, easy to use and affordable.

Therefore, he said, “I think it would be foolish” to abandon the segment prematurely,” he cautioned. In fact, Cinedigm’s disc business, which had experienced declines, flattened in 2017 and is now growing in 2018, in part due to smarter retail placement, interest in 4K Ultra HD, mult-pack sets and specially packaged products, he said.

Still, digital distribution is the “revenue engine” going forward, “and unlike its physical predecessor it’s taking many shapes and sizes, due in part to its more consumer-responsive nature.”

“I often say digital is the democratization of entertainment consumption,” he said. “Content distributors, retail shelves, they no longer decide what wins. The omnipresent availability of digital content anywhere and everywhere allows the consumer to be in charge.”

With digital content available through EST, transactional VOD and subscription streaming, he said,  content owners need to find consumers on the platforms and services they like. That’s why Cinedigm was early in embracing the OTT market and created three OTT channels.

“You need to be platform agnostic,” he said. “Confidently follow the money regardless of the platform.”

He added, “Tech is playing an increasingly role in content distribution. It’s no longer entirely accurate to say content is king.”

In that same vein, data is key.

“We put a great deal of focus and investment in securing extensive and detailed data,” he said. “And we have a strong culture of  analytics and self-reflection. Cinedigm looks at each piece of content to determine the right demographics. It starts and ends with the consumer.

“And once we’ve determined who will want a particular piece of content, then we determine where that consumer shops. That could mean Walmart or Best Buy, but it can also mean Netflix or Amazon or iTunes or even something more unique, like Crunchyroll.”

Noting that there were “no major studios or retailers” in the audience, Sondheim pointed out that indies are critical innovators. They “take chances on innovative content,” he said.