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Ashton Kutcher Sells Stake in A Plus, His ‘Positive Journalism’ Site, for $2.7 Million in Stock

Ashton Kutcher has sold his remaining stake in A Plus, the digital-media company dedicated to feel-good human-interest news stories, to Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment.

Kutcher, best known for “That ’70s Show,” co-founded A Plus in 2014. In 2016, Chicken Soup for the Soul — the company founded around the brand of best-selling inspirational books — acquired a majority stake in A Plus. Now Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, a publicly traded subsidiary of Chicken Soup for the Soul, has acquired full control of A Plus in a deal the company valued at $15 million in cash and stock.

Under the Dec. 28, 2018, agreement, Kutcher is receiving CSS Entertainment stock valued at $2.69 million, per a regulatory filing. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment also bought out A Plus co-founders Evan Beard and Kendall Dabaghi, who each received shares worth $117,000.

For the remaining 80% of the transaction’s $12 million value, CSS Entertainment is essentially a rejiggering the ownership structure for A Plus with the Chicken Soup for the Soul parent company. According to CSS Entertainment, the cash portion of the acquisition was offset by $3.3 million of advances it was owed by A Plus; the remainder will be carried in an intercompany cash management account “until amortized in accordance with prior practice.”

With CSS Entertainment’s 100% ownership of A Plus, the company expects to save around $5.1 million per year in distribution costs. Under a September 2016 deal granting CSS Entertainment exclusive worldwide rights to distribute all of A Plus’ video and editorial content, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment had received a net distribution fee equal to 40% of gross revenue generated by the distribution of the A Plus content.

“We have streamlined our corporate structure and stand to fully benefit from the tremendous distribution reach that A Plus adds,” William J. Rouhana Jr., chairman and CEO of CSS Entertainment, said in a statement. “In addition, we have deepened our longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship with Ashton Kutcher.”

Kutcher commented, “The full integration of A Plus and CSS Entertainment makes perfect sense to further CSS Entertainment’s content creation and distribution strategies. I look forward to working with the team to continue to grow CSS Entertainment with A Plus as a wholly owned part of the company.”

A Plus describes itself as a “social and mobile-first platform” that delivers “video stories that bring people together.” In 2018, according to the company, A Plus had 4.8 billion video views in the last year and boosted social-media followers by 50% to 2.9 million.

The site, whose tagline is “Good News,” currently features stories with headlines including “Separated Families Meet At The U.S.-Mexico Border For Christmas,” “Former President Barack Obama Surprises Kids At A D.C. Children’s Hospital,” and “How One Young Girl’s Dolls Are Comforting Kids Heading For Surgery.”

Formed in 2014, CSS Entertainment is focused on online VOD networks that are both “positive and entertaining” and has pursued a roll-up strategy. In November 2017, it bought Screen Media, an indie film and TV show distributor which also operates free video-streaming service Popcornflix, in a deal valued at $5.5 million. In August 2018, the company bought Pivotshare, a subscription VOD service with channels across categories including music, sports, religion, arts and culture, lifestyle and family, in a $4.35 million deal. Last fall it picked up Truli Media, a media company focused on Christian and “family friendly” content.

CSS Entertainment has raised capital through a variety of mechanisms, including an IPO under the SEC’s Reg A+ regulation that raised $30 million, a $7.5 million loan and $13.7 million through an unusual security called a “redeemable perpetual preferred stock offering.”

Separately, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment announced development of a pet-themed TV series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Animal Tales,” comprising 15 half-hour episodes. The show will be sponsored by the Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food brand and nonprofit animal-safety org American Humane.

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