Toronto, Ont. — March 3, 2011 — Starz, LLC, has completed a transaction resulting in a Canadian investor group purchasing a majority stake in the award-winning Starz Animation Toronto. This transaction will bolster the CG-animation and VFX company as it continues its growth in the digital media industry. The deal was announced today by Starz, LLC, President and CEO Chris Albrecht.

Starz, LLC has retained an equity stake in the company and will continue to support the studio in numerous ways.  No other terms of the transaction were disclosed.

“We are very proud of the work that the Starz Animation Toronto team has created over the last few years, work that stands up to anything coming from the major studios,” Albrecht said. ”As a minority partner, we remain committed to the growth of the company. Starz is turning its primary focus more toward globally appealing live action TV programming and we are confident that the best way for the animation studio to continue its growth is to go forward under Canadian majority ownership.”

Noted media and marketing executive J. Thomas Murray and executive producer Steven B. Hecht lead the Canadian buying group.  The team plans to support all of the current productions and business development at the studio, while utilizing Starz Animation Toronto as the foundation of a multimedia business that will leverage the studio’s expertise in CG animation for features, television, and high-end visual effects.

Speaking for the Canadian partners, Hecht noted: “The artistry and professionalism of the staff at Starz Animation Toronto is well known here in Canada and around the world. Certainly the most recent evidence of the team’s quality is the impressive debut of Gnomeo & Juliet, which earned more than $100 million worldwide since opening on Feb. 11, and the work of Starz Animation Toronto has been credited for a large part of the film’s success.  We plan to use this impressive track record as the platform for aggressive growth.”

Hecht added that “Canadian control provides Starz Animation with two significant benefits.  First, on the service side, it will be more cost competitive by taking full advantage of the significant grants, labor tax credits and subsidy opportunities available in Canada.  Second, it will allow the studio to expand into development and production, on an ownership basis, of intellectual property, independently and / or together with international co-production partners.”

The Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade announced in 2009 a grant of nearly $23 million, to support a total investment of $153 million over five years, to help Starz Animation Toronto create and retain over 250 jobs through expanding and enhancing the studio as a Center of Excellence for innovation in animation.  The province will continue to support the studio’s investment in innovation and expansion, under the new ownership structure.  The studio will maintain its debt financing relationship with RBC Royal Bank.

The partnership acquiring the majority stake in the studio is a new Canadian holding company with principles who have extensive Canadian, North American, and worldwide communications sector experience.  Led by Murray and Hecht, the group includes members with backgrounds in broadcasting, media production, strategic media marketing, and an established profile in global capital markets.

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Chris Arrant

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