The founder of CarsDirect.com is off to a new venture that takes the basic CarsDirect model and applies it to other big-ticket items like boats, motorcycles, washing machines, computers and stereos.

Scott Painter has founded L.A.-based Direct Ventures to manage all aspects of sales for what he calls "thoughtful purchases," or purchases over $500 that might require answers from experts, financing options, maintenance services or insurance.

"Our first site, BoatsDirect.com, sold over $1 million worth of boats in under a month," Painter said. "That's four times the volume that we did at CarsDirect in our first month of sales, and the boating market is only one tenth the size of the car market."

Over the next six months, Painter plans to assemble a board of experts in the various retailing fields that the group plans to tackle. The launch of MotorcyclesDirect.com is imminent, and a new site focusing on different products will launch every two months after that. The company is also considering a portal site, similar to Amazon.com, that would make all of its sites available in one place.

Direct Ventures is in the process of closing its first round of funding, expected to top $30 million. Painter declined to identify his financial backers until after the round is officially closed.

Innovative Movie-Promo Tactic

Using the Internet to promote movies is nothing new, even for studios that have fumbled with their own original content or entertainment sites.

But one local company is taking a new cyber approach to marketing its upcoming computer-animated feature film.

In a first for a production company or studio, Santa Monica-based Threshold Entertainment, through its Internet subsidiary TheThreshold.com, plans to run a 22-episode prequel series called "Foodfight!: The Adventures of Dex Detective" that will run in advance of the theatrical release of its animated film "Foodfight!" The movie, which is not slated to be released for another year and a half to two years, has yet to find a studio distributor but that isn't stopping Threshold.

The film, currently in production, is a tale of what happens in a grocery store after hours. With permission from major food and consumer product companies, including Procter & Gamble, Lipton Foods, Post Cereals and M & M; Mars, scores of products in the grocery store become heroes of the film. The movie will include already-known product mascots, like Mr. Clean and the Chiquita Banana Lady, and will introduce newly created characters, such as Dex Detective.

"On the creative level, the sky's the limit," said Larry Kasanoff, chairman and chief executive of Threshold Entertainment. "On the business level, from a distribution point of view, you're not limited by middle men. Rather than our lives being judged by 'Does some studio exec think we're right?,' it's up to the public a harsher critic and a more honest one, but we want it that way."

Threshold animators have partnered with an animation team in Korea to create the film. The two companies have contributed the $50 million in financing needed to complete it.

Each of the 22 prequel episodes will be netcast for a two-week period, beginning early next year. That means the prequel will roll out over 44 weeks, after which the film will be released into theaters. At least that's the plan.

The future of TV

Just in time for this year's holiday season, satellite television provider DirecTV will introduce to the market several systems enhanced with Internet features, including a new Microsoft Corp. system introduced last week.

The new RCA DirecTV system, with Microsoft's UltimateTV service, is the first and only digital broadcast service to integrate DirecTV's programming with Internet access, interactive television systems and digital video recording, the company said.

The RCA DirecTV system will contain two satellite tuners, allowing users to watch two programs simultaneously with a picture-in-picture feature. A hard disk drive will allow for digital recording, and for the first time, consumers will be able to watch one digital program while recording another.

DirecTV's program with Microsoft is one of several new TV services that the company will introduce at major retail stores in the third and fourth quarters of this year. Consumers will be able to buy these packages along with DirecTV satellites at electronics stores.

Through a deal between America Online Inc. and DirecTV, the companies will offer a combination of satellite television programming and AOL's services, including Internet access, e-mail, buddy lists and e-commerce.

DirecTV has also teamed with TiVo Inc., a leader in the digital recording industry, and will release later this year a system combining TiVo's recording system with DirecTV's programming. Consumers will have the choice of buying the Microsoft system, the AOL system or the TiVo system when they buy a DirecTV dish.

L.A. Web Review-

Just because you don't have a sweet tooth doesn't mean you won't be lured in by Ecandy.com, which sells all things sugary.

Though the site hawks big-name candy like M & Ms; and Nestle's Butterfinger, the most tempting choices are best described as retro candy, including strips of candy buttons, Pixy Stix and Fun Dip, choices rarely found on the racks of today's candy shelves (or coursing through the veins of today's hyperactive kids).

The site does offer hip fare as well, most notably tins of Chupa Chups lollypops with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" wrappers. More elegant options include pricey European chocolates.

The site's graphics are passable, though one photo of a handful of Hershey's Kisses looks more like a big ball of foil. And be warned: With the exception of some items in special containers, most goodies are sold in enormous five-pound quantities.

Staff reporter Laura Dunphy can be reached at ldunphy@labusinessjournal.com

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