Mogul reacquires 'Rangers' franchise from Disney

Count the Power Rangers among the vintage entertainment properties going through brand rehab.

Haim Saban’s newly formed Saban Brands shingle has reacquired from Disney the rights to the “Power Rangers” franchise that built Saban’s fortune in the 1990s. Deal is believed to be worth at least $100 million, though financial terms were not disclosed. As the first phase of resurrecting the franchise, Saban has cut a deal with Nickelodeon for 20 new “Power Rangers” episodes to bow next year. The library of 700 older “Power Rangers” segs will begin airing on cabler Nicktoons later this year.

The “Power Rangers” deal comes as more evidence of the value of established entertainment properties, even those that have been gathering dust in recent years, in an era of multiplatform programming, licensing and merchandising deals. Viacom last fall spent $60 million to secure the rights to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” with plans to revive the amphibian heroes in film, TV, vidgames and toys (Daily Variety, Oct. 22). Last month, the rights to the “Peanuts” characters were acquired by the family of creator Charles M. Schulz for $175 million from United Feature Syndicate and Scripps Co.

Saban Brands prexy Elie Dekel said Haim Saban approached Disney about retrieving the Power Rangers franchise more than six months ago because he was convinced it had potential for a strong revival. Disney has maintained some “Power Rangers” merchandise licensing and has older episodes airing in foreign markets. But the property clearly hasn’t been a priority for the Mouse.

“We decided to sell the property because it didn’t fit with the Disney brand or our long-term programming strategy,” said Mouse House spokesman Jonathan Friedland.

Dekel sees myriad opportunities to introduce the Power Rangers — a group of ordinary youths who can “morph” into superheroes — to a new generation of kids through the TV series, live tours and feature films, among other efforts.

“Haim has always felt that the brand could truly be evergreen, and while Disney continued to produce the series and support the consumer products part of the business, we still see tremendous untapped potential,” Dekel said.

At the time Disney acquired “Power Rangers” along with Fox Family Worldwide in 2001, the franchise had grossed an astounding $5 billion in retail merchandise sales alone.

Dekel is very familiar with the property, having been a Saban Entertainment exec at the time it took off. Saban developed the concept after being impressed by the Japanese version. He cut a deal in the late 1980s with Toei Film to adapt the series for the U.S. He pitched it to U.S. outlets for years but didn’t get any takers until Fox’s fledgling Fox Kids kidvid block picked it up. “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” as the show was known in its first two seasons, was an overnight sensation after it bowed on Fox Kids in 1993. A few years later, Saban and Fox created a joint kidvid venture, Fox Family Worldwide, that incorporated the Power Rangers and acquired the Family Channel. When it bought Fox Family Worldwide in 2001, Disney turned the cabler into ABC Family Channel.

In its heyday, the show was frequently criticized by kidvid watchdogs for its violent content, which was one reason why Disney shied away from the property in the U.S. But there was no denying its popularity on the playground.

For Dekel, the chance to have a second shot at exploiting the Power Rangers brand in a vastly expanded media market is “thrilling and exciting and somewhat surreal,” he said.

Saban Brands has more acquisitions in the works as part of its plan to build a diverse portfolio of properties that can be managed and marketed around the world. Saban Capital Group has committed more than $500 million in financing for the unit (Daily Variety, May 6).

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