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Ovitz, Wolpert Form One-Stop Internet Firm

Entertainment figures joining grocery magnate to sell movies, videos and games online this summer.

May 21, 1999|JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Entertainment heavyweights Richard Wolpert and Michael Ovitz teamed with billionaire grocery magnate Ronald W. Burkle on Thursday to announce a new company dubbed CheckOut.com that will sell movies, videos and games over the Internet.

They are positioning the company's Web site, which is expected to debut this summer, as the first one-stop shop online to tap into a wide range of information about the entertainment industry. It will link to a series of destinations including CheckOutMusic.com, CheckOutVideos.com and CheckOutGames.com. Each site will include reviews, news, charts and artists' biographies.

The company will add sports to the mix after the site launches.

The venture reflects a move by Burkle, head of the investment firm Yucaipa Cos., to cash in on the fast-growing Internet. Burkle hired Wolpert, previously president of Disney Online, in January to run Yucaipa's Internet and technology ventures. Burkle and Ovitz are good friends and have worked together on other deals, including an effort to bring a football franchise to Los Angeles.

The team hopes to market the site to lists of consumers that Burkle has access to through Yucaipa's grocery store holdings. It also plans to leverage Wolpert's technical expertise and Ovitz's entertainment connections to create compelling content and secure licensing agreements.

"This is a digital mall for three of the most popular things in our culture," Ovitz said.

Analysts said the partners' name recognition will carry the new company just so far and that it will face the same hurdles confronting even well-known Internet firms.

"The names themselves are well known in the entertainment industry, and I don't doubt that they can bring to bear some significant content exclusives based on just who they are," said Mark Hardie, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, a Boston-based market research firm. Still, he added, "The public is not in desperate need of another portal."

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