‘Veggies’ sale tale

Bankruptcy leaves Big Idea on auction block

NEW YORK — Big Idea Prods., home of the popular “VeggieTales” animated, faith-based videos, is headed for the auction block.

Chicago-based Big Idea was forced to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month after an ill-fated expansion drive into feature film production last year put it in the red. Company financed 100% of the $12 million cost of its first feature, “Jonah,” which was distributed by Artisan and generated $25 million at the box office.

Classic Media (owner of Golden Books) had already offered $7.5 million for Big Ideas’ assets, but under the terms of the bankruptcy code, Big Idea is obliged to open the bidding to all interested parties in order to guarantee creditors a fair valuation and maximum price for the company. Auction is due to be completed Oct. 28.

Classic is still very much in the race, said Big Idea chief operating officer Terry Pefanis, and is likely to up its offer price should a third party raise the stakes in the next month.

Launched in 1993 with the first of 15 “VeggieTales” videos, Big Idea today claims a library of some 23 original 30- to 45-minute video features. In addition to “VeggieTales” heroes Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, company has also developed CGI-franchise “321 Penguins” and “Larry Boy,” a sort of “Batman” spoof. The “VeggieTales” franchise has sold 35 million copies worldwide.

Big Idea last year generated $40 million in sales, but Classic’s relatively low offer price reflects the fact that company mortgaged its rights in multi-year distribution deals in 2001. Rights are due to revert back to Big Idea by 2007.

Big Idea recently released “The Ballad of Little Joe” and has completed a new Easter video to be released in February.

“The company embarked on an ambitious growth plan in 2000, but in the entertainment biz, if you invest all upfront and if it doesn’t pan out, you can get in big trouble,” said Pefanis.

Sale is being handled by Chicago-based Silverman Consulting.

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