Dec 7, 2002
Four suitors pursue Muppet-maker Henson
by Jeffrey Goldfarb
Dec 6, 2002
reprinted entirely without permission
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- After more than a year of struggling to find a buyer for Muppet-maker Jim Henson Co, German's EM.TV is now in talks with four possible bidders and hopes to unload the unit before the end of the year, people familiar with the situation said Friday.
EM.TV is negotiating to sell the creators of Miss Piggy and Big Bird to either Entertainment Rights Plc, privately held Classic Media or the former chief executive of United Paramount Network (UPN), Dean Valentine, these people said.
A fourth possible buyer is billionaire investor Haim Saban, who built his fortune on the children's characters Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and whose interest in the Muppets had been previously reported.
EM.TV is facing a decline on a 63.9 million euro ($64.5 million) loan that comes due at the end of the year and company sources have said they hope to sell Henson by then. People familiar with the deal expect the unit to fetch between $100 million and $150 million.
People inside EM.TV have said in the past that the company might try to hang on to a minority stake in Henson to retain access to some of the programming and character rights.
Representatives for all the individuals and companies involved could not be reached for comment.
Aside from Saban, who raked in about $1.5 billion from the sale of his stake in Fox Family Worldwide last year, it was unclear whether any or all of the suitors had lined up the necessary financing yet to do a deal.
London-based Entertainment Rights, which develops and licenses children's programming, has a market capitalization of about $43 million, based on its Friday closing price on the London Stock Exchange.
Classic Media, which holds the rights to kids' characters including Casper the Friendly Ghost, is privately held and does not have to publicly reveal its finances.
Saban, who now runs Saban Capital Group, submitted a $128 million bid with private equity firm Evercore Partners Inc in October.
Jim Henson Co, which grew to fame designing beloved children's characters, is now primarily a television and film production company. Its most recent made-for-TV movie It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie drew 11 million viewers on NBC last Friday.