The pact covers Sony’s seven free-to-air channels, including Sony Movies, Sony Movies Action, Sony Movies Classic, Sony Channel, POP, Tiny POP and POP Max, as well as the brands’ various digital assets.
The Sony-labeled channels will be rebranded, with a new look unveiled on May 25, and all brands will sit under the Narrative Entertainment banner. However, the content offering, which includes everything from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” to the Care Bears and “Blade Runner 2049,” won’t change, as Sony will continue as a licensing and distribution partner for Narrative.
Variety understands that the plan is to create a premier AVOD destination out of the U.K. that encompasses the various brands. There’s already something of an AVOD footprint in place, with kids-focused POP Player serving as an AVOD TV and mobile app, alongside dedicated websites and YouTube channels.
Thirty-five channel employees in the U.K. will also remain in London.
Based out of New York, Narrative Capital is a financing and investment firm that specializes in media, entertainment and IT. The company was a backer in the Dev Patel-fronted 2016 film “Lion.” Chief executive Daniel Levin tells Variety: “Sony has done a wonderful job of cultivating these channels and they’ve been a wonderful partner in this transition. The programming will be uninterrupted.
“We’re particularly excited to welcome a brand like Pop into the Narrative family, which is without question a premier destination network for children across the U.K., and to give an incredible new look and feel to the movies and entertainment channels,” Levin adds.
Eventually, Narrative entertains the prospect of original content across the movies and entertainment offerings. But for the moment, says Levin, “it’s about broadening the existing reach through new digital platforms and greater investment around content.”
It’s likely that Narrative will be aggressive in licensing a more premium level for movies, in particular, as it looks to draw a larger audience to the brands.
Sony’s movies portfolio is the largest free-to-air network of movie channels in the U.K. while the kids’ portfolio is the largest commercial network of kids’ channels in the country. Collectively, the channels offer more than 6,400 hours of content across Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat.
The POP brand of channels, aimed at kids aged 6-10, offers over 1,400 hours of programming and features established brands such as Pokemon, My Little Pony and Care Bears, along with shows like “Alvinnn!!! And the Chipmunks,” “Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir” and “PJ Masks.” Elsewhere, Tiny POP is for pre-schoolers 3-6, and Pop Max is for boys 6-10.
Meanwhile, the movie and entertainment portfolio offers a combined 5,000-plus hours of licensed programming across the channels. The flagship Sony Movies channel is comprised of theatrical blockbusters, contemporary titles and cult films, while Sony Movies Action and Sony Movies Classic offer a deeper selection of films for fans of the genres. Sony Movies Christmas is the U.K.’s most watched seasonal channel, and series-led Sony Channel features TV dramas and gameshows.
The deal was brokered in the U.K. by Remy Minute, who was the founder and CEO of CSC Media Group, which operated the channels originally before the company sold into Sony in 2014 in a deal worth £107 million. Minute is now back in the fold, stepping in as CEO to help transition the business out of Sony.
The sale is the latest offloading of channel assets for Sony, which last year sold its Asia channels to former Sony executives Andy Kaplan and George Chien, who launched KC Global Media to operate the channels. Sony initiated a review of its networks portfolio in 2019.
While it’s unusual to see investment firms like Narrative, rather than other media companies, chase channel portfolios like Sony’s, it’s clear these outfits see an opportunity in expanding existing content offerings via digital streams — particularly AVOD — and other new tech that more traditional players may not necessarily perceive as straightforward revenue streams.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Levin negotiated Narrative’s acquisition deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment.
(Pictured: Narrative Capital CEO Daniel Levin)