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Canadian investors buy majority stake in Starz Animation Toronto

Less than two years after the Ontario provincial government committed US$23 million annually to underwrite Starz Animation Toronto for five years, US media giant Starz Media has sold its majority stake in the Toronto, Canada-based studio to a local investor group.
March 4, 2011

Less than two years after the Ontario provincial government committed US$23 million annually to underwrite Starz Animation Toronto for five years, US media giant Starz Media has sold its majority stake in the Toronto, Canada-based studio to a local investor group.

The Canadian buyers, led by broadcaster J. Thomas Murray and veteran TV executive producer Steven B. Hecht, have secured the future of the Toronto animation and VFX studio for an undisclosed price.

Starz Animation Toronto opened its doors in 2007 as a division of Burbank-based Starz Media.

Despite Starz Media stepping away from control of the Toronto studio, Ontario will carry through on its pledge to invest US$153 million over five years to help Starz Animation Toronto retain jobs under the new ownership structure.

And the studio will retain a line of credit with RBC Royal Bank to interim finance tax credits.

The majority stake sale follows the box office success of the Toronto studio’s highest-profile project, the animated feature Gnomeo & Juliet. The studio last year built a full stereoscopic 3-D unit to complete work on the film.

The Canadian group that now controls Starz Animation Toronto includes investors with backgrounds in broadcasting, media production, strategic media marketing and global capital markets, according to the new majority shareholders.

“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,” Hecht said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

For its part, Starz is relinquishing control of Starz Animation Toronto to focus on live-action TV fare, company CEO Chris Albrecht said in his own statement.

As Albrecht continues to refocus the US media giant, Starz earlier sold part of Overture Films to Relativity Media and, in a separate deal, sold the animation studio Film Roman to a group of investors led by Film Roman president Scott Greenberg.

From Playback Online

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