Every Hollywood studio conglomerate talks in terms of creating multimedia "franchises" around their most popular properties and commodified characters; now one of them, Universal Pictures, has taken the full plunge and created an entire division dedicated to unlocking theglobal franchising potential of its content across every conceivable distribution outlet.

Louis A. Feola has been appointed president of Universal Pictures Franchise Development, a newly-invented umbrella entity responsible for managing Universal's consumer products business and its two specialty production units -- Universal Home Entertainment Productions (UHEP) and Universal Pictures Visual Programming (UPVP). In addition, the division will coordinate the exploitation of Universal's franchise properties across these units and within Vivendi Universal as a whole.

Feola, a 20-year-old veteran of the studio where he was most recently in charge of what is now known as UHEP, will report directly to Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal Pictures, and Rick Finkelstein, its president and chief operating officer.

In making the announcement, UniversalStudios president and chief operating officer Ron Meyer declared that "this new organization is poised to build greater value for the company and increase efficiency as we even more aggressively exploit our franchises across all media, including theatrical, television, direct-to-video, games, and theInternet."

"Moving forward, under UPFD, we will have the great advantage of looking at our franchises through an overall strategic lens, as well as from within each individual business unit," added Finkelstein and Shmuger in a joint statement.

By placing Feola's new division centre-stage within the corporate hierarchy, the studio's new ownership regime clearly hope to extend what has already proved a lucrative spin-off business for Universal (and other studios, notably Disney and Warner Bros). Its 1988 theatrical feature The Land Before Time has already spawned eight successful animated direct-to-video sequels; while its live-action hit The Mummy has not only inspired a theatrical follow-up to bereleased this summer but also a recently-announced TV series.

The studio's Consumer Products arm, which is responsible for lining up licensing and other marketing tie-ins for such eminently merchandisable Universal films as the upcoming Jurassic Park III or Josie And The Pussycats, also explores and develops third party including the enormously popular classic character, Curious George.

UHEP is involved in the development and production of direct-to-video movies, live action and animation television, and original programming for the Internet. These have included live-action franchises based around films like K9, Beethoven and Tremors, as well as an animated television series spun off from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character. UHEP includes Universal Cartoon Studios (UCS), Universal's animation production facility, which produces television and video titles, as well as a variety of other projects, includinganimated shorts.

UPVP is involved in the development and production of special interest feature-length direct-to-video movies and animation television. These include best-selling specialty films based on successful live theater productions, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber's Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the dance revue Burn The Floor and the international hit, Lord Of The Dance. It also produces the animated television series, Maisy, and is currently in production on another called Sitting Ducks