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Viacom takes stake in Rainbow

Italo toon house produces 'Winx Club' franchise

Viacom has acquired a minority stake in Italian animation company Rainbow Group, maker of globally distributed “Winx Club” kiddie TV franchise, in a move that will propel the expansion of the ambitious privately owned studio and boost its bridgehead toward U.S. auds.

Founded in 1995 by former comicbook artist Iginio Straffi, Rainbow is an Italian success story largely thanks to his “Winx,” six trendy teenage fairies designed with a style that mixes Japanese manga and classic Western animation, which has bewitched millions of tween girls in more than 130 countries.

Last year, Viacom’s Nickelodeon and Rainbow announced a global content-based partnership centered on “Winx Club” under which Nickelodeon secured TV and merchandising rights in the U.S. and pay TV rights for Latin America, Canada, U.K. and other territories.

That partnership now expands to co-development and co-production of seasons five and six of “Winx Club,” and to two existing theatrical “Winx” movie titles, CGI feature “Winx Club: The Secret of the Lost Kingdom” and “Winx Club 3D: Magic Adventure,” which are now likely to be released Stateside via Paramount.

Neither financial terms nor the entity of the Viacom stake were disclosed.

According to Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the Viacom stake in Rainbow is said to be 30%, allowing Straffi to stay in full control, with plans for a Rainbow Group flotation to follow.

Rainbow, which is based in the small central Italian city of Loreto, with a production outpost in Singapore, also makes the series “Tommy and Oscar,” “Prezzy,” “Monster Allergy” and, most recently, “Huntik Secrets and Seekers.”

The group, which has emulated the Disney model, on a much smaller scale, also has a Rome theme park, called MagicLand, in the works based on the “Winx” franchise and other Rainbow properties.

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