Oddly enough, it was a dinosaur that spurred Carl Hall to leave HIT Entertainment – a big, purple, singing dinosaur named Barney.
When hit spent US$275 million to acquire Texas-based Lyrick Studios (Barney’s parent company) in first quarter 2001, the U.K. distributor became a different entity overnight, a reality reflected in the jump in the number of warm bodies at the company – 70 before the deal, 300 after. And while the 280 hours in HIT Wildlife’s catalog has legs, it doesn’t compare to a dinosaur with almost $4 billion in merchandising revenue to his credit and his own personal entrée into the U.S. market (regardless of what you think of his singing).
Hall, who was head of HIT Wildlife and a founding member of the company, leaves on good terms. His new company, Parthenon Entertainment, has signed a multi-year deal to distribute the HIT Wildlife catalog, and will be working out of the hit offices (and its stand at MIPTV) until new digs are found. Expect Parthenon to set up in the west of London in the next few months. Five other hit staffers will make the trip with Hall.
Says Hall of the deal: ‘It was the perfect opportunity to say: ‘Guys, you’re concentrating on the kids business. I want to concentrate on the wildlife business. Can we strike a deal here?’ And they said ‘Lets go for it.” Going for it is what Hall intends to do, putting up his own money and that of a few minority investors to make Parthenon a reality. The company will specialize in wildlife and history, with the first project under the Parthenon banner being Stonehenge Rediscovered, an historical effort tagged for an early 2003 completion date.
Hall plans to apply the experience he gained at hit by concentrating heavily on non-television opportunities (broadband and other spin-offs), to build a wide base for his projects. ‘Anywhere that we can bring in a buck that isn’t TV distribution – we’ve done well,’ explains Hall. ‘I understand the value of rights more than anybody, coming from a company like hit. They’ve taught us well.’
Hall says both the broadcasters and producers he works with are fine with the move. ‘In the long run,’ he offers, ‘it’s myself and my staff’s relationships with the producers that have made this possible. hit has acted as a bank for us for a number of years, but the branding and everything has come from our own products, rather than anything coming from the mother company.’ As an added bonus, producers will now have dedicated sales people who aren’t also peddling dancing dinos.
Asked if the deal signals a rebounding market, Hall was cautious: ‘I think it has bottomed out. I think we’ve hit the bottom of the recession. It might still hold for a little longer. But, the fact is, with the production commitments we’ve got going for the next couple of years, we’re easily going to ride it out. The ratings on wildlife programs and history are there…
I don’t think it will ever be the same again, but it’s sorted the main players out. I think the people who are going to survive this period are going to be a lot stronger coming out.
‘People should take heart. If I’m willing to put everything on the line for the business, they’ve got to guess – unless I’m completely stupid, and time will tell whether I am or not – that if I’m willing to do it, everyone should feel a little more confident that there will be an upturn.’
(with files from Amanda Burgess, Kidscreen.)