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Rights 'n' Roll : Two brothers pioneered the business of international music video licensing. Their latest coup: Amnesty International, the movie.

December 09, 1988|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | Times Staff Writer

When the first chords sound of "Get Up, Stand Up," the opening number of Saturday's cable-television broadcast of Amnesty International's "Human Rights Now!" concert, Kevin and Karl Wall will at last be able to relax.

They will finally see the airing of the concert they successfully peddled internationally, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N'Dour, at the Buenos Aires stop on the recent six-week world tour. Through their Los Angeles-based company, Radio Vision International, the two brothers will have sold a broadcast containing politically provocative music and animation to 55 countries, many of them not known for their shining records in the human rights arena.

"It was a difficult marketing exercise," said Kevin Wall, president of Radio Vision. "On the one hand, you have the top talent in the world. On the other hand, the nature of the event is Amnesty International and human rights, and there are countries that are having their problems."

Not bad for two brothers from Indiana who got their start in business working after school at their parents' skating rink.

Fast-growing Radio Vision International has created a name for itself in the specialized world of foreign licensing and international distribution of music television programming and specialty videos. But Kevin Wall didn't launch Radio Vision with an eye toward becoming a powerhouse in international distribution.

"I was just trying to carve out a living," said Wall, who had previously made a career building stages and scaffolding for rock concerts and had dabbled in concert promotion in his home town. His plan was to set up the company to develop a track record so he could get a job in the television industry.

It was tough at first. Wall ran the business out of his studio apartment, "where I had literally sold my furniture to keep this thing going."

His first major job was as a consultant to the 1983 US Festival, a rock concert in Southern California, advising computer whiz Steve Wozniak on music rights problems he was having with various artists.

Broad Appeal

A 1984 visit to the big annual television festival in Cannes, France, convinced Wall that international distribution of music programming was a business just waiting to be discovered.

Most concerts were filmed or videotaped in the United States for U.S. audiences, and little thought was given to foreign distribution, he said. What's more, many foreign broadcasters had no set time slot for music programming and were leery of such programs because of previous rights problems with artists performing in the shows.

Wall set about acquiring music specials, most of which were an hour long, and establishing credibility with foreign broadcasters.

The fact that most networks were government-owned proved helpful because "their charter was to appeal to all aspects of the population. There was a market for a music program just as there was for a 'Dynasty' or underwater basket weaving," Wall recalled. Foreign broadcasters became even more interested when music shows, which transcend language barriers, began to pull in large numbers of viewers, he said.

Wall's initial success led to a job offer after only a few months from an East Coast company. Kevin called older brother Karl, who was living in Connecticut, and asked him to come to California to help him dismantle the business.

"Karl looked at the business and said, 'Look, this is ridiculous. You've got a business that's paying your rent,' " Kevin said. So the brothers joined forces. Karl would handle the numbers, becoming chief financial officer of the company, and Kevin would handle the rock 'n' roll.

The turning point came in April, 1985, when the brothers took on--"for free," they say--international sales of the USA for Africa concert, which was broadcast in more than 60 countries.

"It was an extremely successful marketing effort," said Kevin Wall. "That was really the start of Radio Vision with a major project."

Entertainment lawyer Jay L. Cooper, who represented the USA for Africa project, said his experience with Radio Vision "really made a believer out of me."

"They were very gung-ho and they convinced me there was a market for this around the world," Cooper said. "It paid large dividends and they helped us make a success out of that project."

Annual company revenue jumped from $250,000 in 1984, when Radio Vision was officially launched, to $1 million to $3 million to $6 million and finally to a projected $12 million this year. The Walls said they expect revenue to double again in 1989.

Radio Vision now has more than 30 employees and has opened offices in London and Tokyo.

The brothers have never taken out a loan, although they did get a cash infusion when London-based Allied Entertainment bought a 30% interest in the company two years ago. "The company has totally been built out of net profits and cash flow," Kevin said.

The Walls say they come by their entrepreneurial bent naturally.

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