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

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.

"Our parents operated a business and we grew up in a business atmosphere," Karl said. "It was come home from school, change your clothes and go work at the business"--a roller skating rink in Ft. Wayne, Ind.

In fact, each of the 12 Wall children--all have first names beginning with K--runs his or her own business, he said. Karl, 38, and Kevin, 36, fall in the middle of the family.

Lack of Competition

The brothers credit their success in part to their inexperience.

"We didn't have 20 years of rules bombarding us," Kevin said. "We just went out and did it." Added Karl: "We made it up."

They were also aided by a lack of competition in the field.

"They have jumped into an area that was completely left void by major distributors," Cooper said.

"Major distributors were interested in 'The Cosby Show' and things like that," he said. "A lot of distributors around the world didn't have confidence in music-based shows, but there's a big market for that."

Despite its name, Radio Vision does very little radio work. Radio Vision acts as the middleman between record companies, broadcasters, cable companies and home video distributors for music shows, often becoming involved early in a costly project to develop a marketing plan that can include licensing agreements and funding ideas.

The company has more than 60 music television programs in international distribution and holds a library of more than 125 music and specialty programs. Its clients include such major U.S. entertainment firms as MCA, CBS Records, Warner Bros. Records and HBO/Cinemax.

Radio Vision's fee arrangement varies with the project, but in general the company is paid a percentage of the revenue it generates.

Some of its projects are treated as break-even ventures, such as the Amnesty International concert, the June live broadcast of the 70th birthday tribute to South African activist Nelson Mandela and the annual "Prince's Trust Rock Gala," sponsored by Britain's Prince Charles to raise money for underprivileged children.

In selling the Amnesty International concert, Radio Vision "took on a very difficult role," said Jack Healey, executive director of Amnesty International in the United States. "There's a heavy human rights message to this sale." Countries that air the broadcast have agreed not to edit it in any way. The program will be shown in this country on the Home Box Office cable service.

The bulk of the company's business, however, comes from for-profit sales of shows including "Billy Joel From Leningrad, USSR," "Cyndi Lauper, Live in Paris," Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary celebration showcasing Phil Collins, among others, and an upcoming half-hour special based on the "U2: Rattle and Hum" feature film.

Radio Vision has begun diversifying recently.

The biggest push so far has been its video company--Radio Vision Video, headed by Karl Wall which was formed early this year, as company promotional literature grandly puts it, to "revitalize the music video market in North America." The Walls said they work to release music videos through mass merchandisers at the same time the music is receiving air play or to coincide with artist tours, rather than weeks or months later as is often the case now.

The company also has experimented with non-music programming, such as children's shows and sporting events, and is exploring the possibility of dramatic programming.

In 1989, Radio Vision will begin providing a minimum of 30 hours of music programming for the Australian Broadcasting System. In addition, the company will launch a weekly global music television series, tentatively called "Go Global," that will begin appearing in seven foreign countries and will expand to 20 by April. Radio Vision also hopes to get more deeply involved in the U.S. market.

The future opportunities will be even greater as barriers between European countries drop in 1992, and as foreign networks become more interested in ratings and stay on the air for more hours, Kevin Wall said. But the brothers also expect more competition in international distribution.

"There have always been a few companies that are sort of dabbling in it," he said. "Starting in '89, we think there will be more competition in our market. We don't think that's unhealthy because it will continue to push the envelope for this programming."

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