PARIS — Vivendi’s Studiocanal, Europe’s biggest film-TV production-distribution company, has acquired Paddington and Company and the Copyrights Group, two purchases that give Studiocanal full ownership of nearly all of the Paddington Bear brand worldwide.
The deal marks Studiocanal’s first acquisition of an iconic European intellectual property. It comes as Studiocanal and parent Vivendi have identified the ownership and exploitation of European properties, especially big, resonant European culture icons, as one of its cardinal growth strategies.
Studiocanal is also “committed” to a third Paddington movie, Studiocanal chairman-CEO Didier Lupfer said. “Paddington 2,” produced by David Heyman (“Harry Potter,” “Gravity”) and directed by Paul King, is gearing up to go into production in October, tracking for a late 2017 release.
Unveiled on Monday, the acquisition of Paddington and Company and the Copyrights Group gives Studiocanal filmed and TV usage of the classic children’s book character, as well as use of the Paddington Bear IP in live entertainment, video games and theme parks, details which suggest the scale of Vivendi’s ambition for the beloved Peruvian bear.
Paddington and Company owns all the intellectual property rights, apart from publishing rights, to Paddington Bear, while the Copyrights Group acts as merchandise licensing agent. Author Michael Bond, who created the character in “A Bear Called Paddington” in 1958, will continue to work closely with Studiocanal with regard to the publishing rights, which he retains.
Studiocanal has also acquired Harvey Unna and Stephen Durbridge Ltd., which has represented all of the media rights in Paddington for the last 40 years.
“If you want to be a big European player, you need a 360-degree vision for the properties you own. There is a huge growth potential for us. If you’re producing ‘Paddington 2,’ you have the potential to create TV series, live entertainment, theme parks, merchandising and licensing, video games,” Lupfer told Variety.
Before joining Studiocanal, Lupfer helped take video game colossus Ubisoft into movie-TV production, producing “Assassin’s Creed” and teen TV franchise “Raving Rabbids,” now with its fourth season in production.
Lupfer also confirmed to Variety that Studiocanal will study the creation of a Paddington Bear animated TV series and is currently in talks to acquire other European brands.
With its tentacles stretching into live shows and concerts, via the Universal Music Group, Vivendi is also in the process of acquiring French mobile phone game company Gameloft, which makes it one of the best-positioned of Europe’s studios to roll out Paddington Bear across a slew of businesses.
“European people have tremendous stories to tell. We want to develop big IPs like ‘Paddington.’ Europe’s IP potential – culturally, historically – may be even greater than in the U.S,” Lupfer said at February’s Berlin Film Festival.
The Paddington Bear brand purchase “is consistent with Studiocanal’s drive to develop into a European group organized along the lines of a Hollywood studio, by looking to garner a larger share of profits accruing from tie-ins with the movie sequels and new TV series,” said Tim Westcott, senior principal analyst at IHS Technology.
Family and animation entertainment, often centered on known brands, has yielded some of Studiocanal’s biggest movie hits to date.
Its German movie production arm, Studiocanal Film, co-produced a live-action version of “Heidi,” directed by Switzerland’s Alain Gsponer, which has grossed $26.7 million to date worldwide. Based on the TV series created by Nick Park, “Shaun the Sheep” has earned $106 million worldwide.
Released late 2014 and “shrewdly pitched at parents as well as children,” said Westcott, “Paddington” earned $290 million worldwide at cinema theaters, Studiocanal’s biggest theatrical tally ever, and the highest gross for a non-U.S studio released family film, according to Studiocanal estimates.
A Paddington TV series would be “important in sustaining the property, because even a successful movie tends to have a short-term impact because it’s only in cinemas for a few weeks,” Westcott added.
Bond’s Paddington Bear books have sold over 35 million copies in more than 40 languages. Over 25 million people own a Paddington toy, Studiocanal said in a statement Monday. Paddington ranked at No. 4 of the most influential 2015 family entertainment brands, after the Minions, “Frozen” and Peppa Pig, according to licensing.biz.
That said, turning Paddington into a massive merchandising hit is still going to be a challenge, Westcott commented. “This is a very competitive sector where Paddington products would be competing for shelf space with some heavy hitting brands like Star Wars and Barbie.”
Studiocanal and Vivendi’s potential attraction to rights holders is suggested by the Paddington deal.
“When Paddington made his big-screen debut at the end of 2014, his popularity grew to a whole new level,” said Karen Jankel, owner and long-time managing director of Paddington and Company. It was at that point that she realized the time had come to think about the future of the business.
Studiocanal’s “international network will benefit not only the licensing of Paddington Bear but also the other classic brands that Copyrights represents, including Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman,’ Father Christmas and ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ characters and ‘The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady,’” said Nicholas Durbridge, chairman of the Copyrights Group.
The sellers were represented in the sale by ACF Investment Bank, a specialist in IP-based business, and London law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.