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Live Nation sells off theater division

Key Brand acquires unit for $90.4 million

Live Nation has at last sold off its theatrical biz, with Key Brand Entertainment, a private investment company owned by Brit theater producer John Gore, acquiring the legit division for $90.4 million.

Move completes the divestment that Live Nation — formerly a branch of Clear Channel Entertainment — announced last spring. Even before that, when Live Nation spun off from Clear Channel in 2005, it was widely understood that Live Nation would focus on the music side of its biz rather than theater.

In the deal, Key Brand takes over promoting and producing org Broadway Across America, which presents Rialto fare in 42 cities and has a subscription base of 265,000. The company also takes over all of Live Nation’s investments in legit productions, including “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Key Brand will assume control of eight venues in North America that Live Nation owned, leased or managed — although Live Nation retains ownership of Broadway’s Hilton Theater, current home of “Young Frankenstein,” as well as a few other U.S. theaters and a number of U.K. assets.

Financing for the acquisition comes from JPMorgan Chase and Aramid Entertainment Fund.

Thomas B. McGrath, a Hollywood vet who has been exec VP of Viacom Entertainment Group and prexy of Paramount Enterprises, will serve as chairman of Key Brand, with Gore as CEO.

Key Brand also has teamed with Canuck producing org Dancap Prods. and Tokyo Broadcasting System to expand efforts in Canadian and Japanese markets. Dancap topper Aubrey Dan will become chairman of Broadway Across Canada, a subsidiary of Broadway Across America.

Gore aims to boost Key Brand’s role in producing new fare. “That’s the fundamental change: generating our own shows and getting involved in other people’s and feeding them to the road,” he said.

First, though, the org will need to turn around the industry perception of a company that has seemed to languish since the split from Clear Channel.

“Broadway Across America has not been a priority for Live Nation over the last three years,” McGrath said. “The first part of the job is to restore the confidence and faith in the company. From a road point of view, there’s a particularly strong repertoire of shows now and coming up in the next few years. There’s tremendous opportunity for rebuilding the subscription base.”

Former Clear Channel prexy of theatrical production Beth Williams will be chief operating officer and head of production at Key Brand. Peter Schneider, former head of Disney Theatrical, will join the company’s board.

No staffing changes are planned for Broadway Across America, led by CEO Steve Winton and chief operating officer David M. Anderson.

The legit assets bought by Key Brand, or at least an earlier incarnation of them, are widely credited with revitalizing road biz in the U.S. over the past 25 years. The company began in 1982 as an arm of Pace Management, which was purchased in 1997 by SFX Entertainment, which in turn was bought by public conglom Clear Channel in 2000.

Over the long process of selling off Live Nation’s theater operations, the list of bidders is said to have included Nederlander, U.K. producer David Ian (“Grease”) and Pace vet Miles Wilkin.

Acquisition by Key Brand returns the org to the hands of a private company, which many legiters feel is better suited than a large public corporation to the often-erratic cottage industry of theatrical producing and presenting.

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