Restructured Heritage Eyes New Business

Feb 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The Heritage Networks, the production company behind the hour-long syndicated weekly hip-hop music series “Weekend VIBE,” has emerged from a buyout and restructuring as Heritage Media Group.

Entrepreneur Charles “Chas” Walker is HMG’s CEO, and Matt Cooperstein, former head of Universal Domestic Television, is the president of HMG Media Distribution.

Mr. Walker, a former senior VP at Lehman Bros. who also ran the online hip-hop Web site hookt.com and worked with music impresario Russell Simmons to develop a digital cable television network, joined Heritage in 2003 to help the company out of its financial troubles.

Mr. Walker became CEO in January 2004, which led to the filing of a prepackaged Chapter 11 with the support of creditors and the approval of the company’s plan of reorganization last December. The reorganization also led to the company’s name change to HMG.

“We’ve taken the best of old Heritage Networks and combined it with new capital,” Mr. Walker said.

HMG will keep its sales office in New York but handle distribution and development out of Los Angeles and create a production presence in New Orleans. HMG’s buyout was financed by the New Orleans-based First Bank and Trust, which lured the company to Louisiana as part of its Hollywood South program, a government-led initiative to bring more media production-particularly black-owned and -operated-to the state.

Mr. Walker said the program, which focused on film production, had “expanded those incentives for production of television.”

In addition to “VIBE,” which is cleared in 75 percent of the country and will go into its fourth season starting fall 2005, HMG is selling “Hip Hop Hold ‘Em,” a weekly hour that merges a poker challenge game show with a lifestyle show like “MTV Cribs.” One of the show’s producers is Bob Sinitsky, the former president of Polygram Television and a colleague of Mr. Cooperstein, who also previously worked at Polygram.

Mr. Walker declined to list any clearances for “Hold ‘Em,” but said he was “cautiously optimistic we can get it cleared.”

Mr. Cooperstein said the company, which is also selling two urban-themed feature film packages, is looking to grow.

“We’re going to try and expand beyond the just the weeklies and the movies,” he said, pointing to cable sales and syndicated strips as potential businesses.

In a world where smaller companies not aligned with station groups or major studios are facing tougher challenges, Mr. Cooperstein said HMG will be able to survive because of its size.

“We’re able to pay attention to projects that maybe some others aren’t,” he said. “What HMG brings to the urban niche is a player that has a lot of creativity and flexibility to respond to the marketplace. The marketplace is challenging, but being a true niche player as HMG is currently, it’s really one of the interesting ways of flourishing in this consolidated marketplace.”

Mr. Walker said he thinks 80 million to 90 million people make up the country’s hip-hop audience, something HMG can take advantage of, thanks to its distribution capabilities.

“The influence of urban images is going to be on such a trajectory that those able to marry those influences in an intelligent way will have a good opportunity to be successful,” he said.