Disney Sells Franchise Mothers Didn’t Like
The media investor Haim Saban said Wednesday that he had bought back the rights to his biggest franchise, “Power Rangers,” from the Walt Disney Company and had licensed the show to Nickelodeon, the children’s cable channel owned by Viacom.
Executives at Saban and Viacom said in interviews that they intended to reinvigorate the nearly 20-year-old franchise, a one-time sensation among children that features costumed teenagers saving the world, The New York Times’s Brian Stelter and Brooks Barnes reported.
“Power Rangers” is the first acquisition by Mr. Saban’s new brands and licensing division. Mr. Saban, who made most of his fortune in children’s entertainment and now owns a big stake in Univision, announced last week that his Saban Capital Group would invest $500 million in Saban Brands, a new company dedicated to acquiring entertainment and consumer brands and exploiting them through retail, television and film channels.
“The list is very, very long for things we’re going to do” with the franchise, Mr. Saban said.
“Power Rangers” was most prominent in the mid-1990s, when it was shown on Fox, but it has remained in production ever since, and an 18th season is in development now. That season will have its debut on Nickelodeon in the first quarter of 2011, the channel said. The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the multiyear deal.
The franchise came to Disney in 2001 as part of the purchase from Saban and Fox of what is now the ABC Family cable channel. At first, Disney had high hopes for the characters, exploring additional licensing and even a feature film. But focus group research soured Disney on them. Mothers, the research showed, disliked the violence — particularly the hand-to-hand combat — that is part of the franchise’s DNA. Ultimately, Disney decided not to brand the Power Rangers characters as Disney products, which made the franchise something of a black sheep at the company.
Mr. Saban said he felt that Disney “did not develop the property and exploit it in the way that it deserves.”
Disney had been quietly shopping the franchise for more than a year, with efforts heating up after the acquisition of Marvel in August. Now flush with boy-centric characters, Disney’s interest in the Power Rangers faded even further.
Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon’s president, said the violence was a “nonissue,” calling the show “more martial artsy and campy than anything else.”
Elie Dekel, who is leading the Saban Brands effort, said he would seek to restore “Power Rangers” to pop culture ubiquity.
The company, which would not divulge any potential acquisitions, will have to move fast as other companies aggressively mine the branding and licensing turf.
The Iconix Brand Group, for instance, is a force in this arena, recently snapping up the Peanuts franchise from E. W. Scripps for about $175 million in cash.
Noting that one of Nickelodeon’s digital channels, Nicktoons, would be broadcasting reruns of “Power Rangers” — there are 700 episodes in the program’s library — Mr. Dekel said that “for much of the audience, they will be brand new.”