Viacom Acquires Comic-Strip Cat Garfield

Garfield, the lasagna-loving comic-strip feline, has a new owner.

The lazy cat has for more than 40 years been the property of owner Jon Arbuckle, a socially awkward fellow who must indulge his pet’s debilitating laziness and constant sarcasm. But in weeks to come, the character will become one more element in Viacom’s vast Nickelodeon portfolio of intellectual property, taking his place alongside SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora The Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Viacom has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Paws, Inc., the entity that holds all global intellectual property rights to both “Garfield” as well as “U.S. Acres,” another Davis creation, including corresponding rights related to content, consumer products, and location-based experiences. The acquisition is expected to close in the upcoming weeks. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the character is said to generate millions of dollars a year in merchandise alone.

“I’m delighted that Garfield is going to be placed in the capable hands of the folks at Nick,” said Jim Davis, the character’s creator, in a prepared statement. “They know how to entertain and will be great stewards for the franchise. I am also excited to continue to do the thing that gets me out of bed every morning…the comic strip!”

The deal is likely to be costly.  Iconix Brand Group in 2010 bought an 80% stake in Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts” from the company known as E.W. Scripps for $175 million. The Schulz family purchased a 20% stake as part of that price. The deal came a decade after the creator had passed away and ceased making the daily popular strip. Iconix in 2017 sold “Peanuts” and “Strawberry Shortcake” rights to DHX Group for $345 million in cash. In May of last year, Sony bought a 39% stake in the property from DHX for $141 million.

Nickelodeon is interested in expanding its rights to use outside properties enjoyed by younger consumers. In the recent past, for example, the kid-media outlet has acquired rights to develop series featuring Paddington, the popular British bear, and characters from the recent spate of Lego movies. The company is airing “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate,”  a series with the young YouTube influencer “Ryan,” the central figure in the online series “Ryan ToysReview” and also launching an animated “Star Trek” series.

In an era when kids are prone to binge-watching their way through one series and moving quickly on to something else, kids’ outlets need to expand their content libraries, said Nickelodeon’s top executive in a recent interview. “I think today we need to make a volume of quality franchises,” Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins told Variety in February. “We need to keep a constant number of new shows coming, and not necessarily make one show with 80 episodes.”

Nickelodeon plans to develop a new “Garfield” animated television series. The global merchandising rights related to the character, including current licensees, will be managed by Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products. “‘Garfield’ is a global evergreen franchise that is a natural fit with Nickelodeon and our portfolio of iconic properties. With fans around the globe that span both kids and adults, we are excited to ignite Garfield into a multi-generational consumer products juggernaut,” said Pam Kaufman, the unit’s president.