Home Entertainment Gets Renewed Focus at Disney; DreamWorks Abandons Playa Vista Project

As of June 27, Walt Disney Motion Picture Group Chairman Richard Cook will add home video to his duty roster. A 28-year veteran with the Disney organization, Cook will supervise Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the studio's home-video operation. At the insistence of CEO Michael Eisner, Disney is restructuring in an attempt to become more profitable.

The restructuring is being undertaken despite the fact that Buena Vista has set an industry record three years in a row, with sales gross in excess of $1 billion. Buena Vista has been the No.1 domestic distributor five times in the last 10 years, and it has held the No.2 spot four times. Buena Vista International, which handles Disney home entertainment outside the US, has performed similarly in the international market and has been the No.1 or No.2 distributor over the past five years. Disney's feature The Lion King is the world's top-selling video.

Cook will be intimately involved with Walt Disney International, a new umbrella organization set up to oversee the company's home-video operations and theatrical marketing and distribution outside the US. BV and BVI's day-to-day operations will be run by Mark Zoradi and Mitch Koch, respectively. Both long-term Buena Vista executives will report directly to Cook, of whom Disney Studios Chairman Joe Roth says, "Dick Cook has an incredible grasp of the entertainment industry and has been a key player in the success of the studio over the past 20 years. I am thrilled that he has agreed to add the home-entertainment division to his list of responsibilities, and I feel confident that it will benefit from Dick's terrific instincts, experience, and sense of showmanship."

Cook himself comments, "The home-entertainment business has gone through several changes in recent years, and there are many challenges ahead. Disney has always been a leader and innovator in this area, and we're hoping to continue and expand upon that tradition. Mark and Mitch are excellent executives in their respective areas, and I'm looking forward to working more closely with them." Cook began his career at Disneyland in the early 1970s and worked his way up the ranks.

In other Hollywood news, DreamWorks SKG announced Thursday, July 1, that it is abandoning plans to develop a studio and laboratory complex in the Playa Vista area in L.A.'s Westside area. Four years of planning, discussions, negotiations, and controversy came to an end when the music, video, and film company failed to obtain commercial financing for the project. Playa Vista, the open stretch of natural wetlands familiar to visitors driving north from the L.A. airport on Lincoln Blvd., is the last large tract of undeveloped property in the city.

DreamWorks completed its purchase of 47 acres in April, but it has gotten nowhere in its efforts since then to make the numbers work, despite the participation of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Allen and DreamWorks partners Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen were to have put $40 million of their own money into the project, which could have cost as much as $300 million to complete. The Wall Street Journal points out that Geffen had been opposed to the project from the beginning, claiming it would distract the company from its core businesses.