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Dreamworks Records, Melee Entertainment in Pact

Hoping to shine in one of the music industry’s few bright spots, Dreamworks Records on Wednesday announced a joint venture with newly-formed Melee Entertainment to release music DVDs that go beyond the typical concert video genre.

With music video DVDs selling at a fast clip and in sharp contrast to the recording industry’s protracted decline in CD sales, Dreamworks and Melee hope in part to cash in on the trend while also developing a roster of creative talent.

Melee president Bryan Turner, former co-owner and chief executive of Priority Records, an urban-slanted label sold to EMI Group Plc in 1998 for $160 million, said he sees music DVDs as a major opportunity for independent labels.

“Especially in the straight-to-DVD area, we see ourselves as a speedboat zipping around these ocean liners, which are the traditional media companies,” said Turner, who formed Melee in conjunction with the Dreamworks deal.

“Dreamworks is independent and in many ways it goes against the grain,” he said, adding that with Dreamworks’ support, he feels empowered to seek creators and artistic properties deemed too “outside the box” for traditional channels.

Melee will also release sports-related, lifestyle and instructional DVDs. The first, due March 4, is a look at street basketball and features basketball stars like Kobe Bryant and rappers like Fat Joe. Melee will also release albums and sign artists in the second year of the venture.

DreamWorks Records principal executive Mo Ostin, said the deal was an important step for the label, home to acts like Nelly Furtado and Jimmy Eat World, because it provides a new outlet for its artists.

Dreamworks Records is the music division of DreamWorks SKG, formed in 1994 by media moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

The Melee DVDs will be distributed through Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music distribution arm.

While music video sales have not surpassed 1 percent of total music sales in over a decade, that share is expected to double this year, according to industry forecasts.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America – a trade group for music giants Bertelsmann AG, EMI, AOL Time Warner Inc, Universal and Sony Corp – about 4.7 million music DVDs were sold as of mid-year 2002, up 60 percent from 2001.

Hoping to cash in on the trend, the big labels have recently released pop music DVDs featuring stars like Eric Clapton, Barenaked Ladies and Paul McCartney.

Industry analysts cite several factors for the growth, such as the fast pace of sales of DVD players. Others say the music video format has been enhanced by digital technology, while others note that music DVDs are harder to swap via the Internet than are CDs, which the recording industry cites as a big factor behind the 9 percent slide in CD sales in 2002.

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