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Warners takes on a bit more NZ production

Having put plenty of money into NZ film production over the last decade and a half, Warner Brothers is now spending on some TV. The studio`s TV Group is buying up all of Eyeworks` non-US interests, including the NZ company founded by Julie Christie, in a deal worth cNZ$300 million.

Beyond the US Eyeworks operates across Europe, South America, here and in Australia.

Founded as Touchdown Productions back in 1991, Christie`s fact-ent shows played well here and, in some cases, overseas. Christie`s High Country Dance (aka Looking For Love), Treasure Island and The Chair all sold overseas – the latter as a format to 29 countries.

Christie sold the company to Netherlands-headquartered Eyeworks in 2006, remaining with the company for some years. She`s now the owner of channels on Sky and a director of the recently-solvent MediaWorks.

Eyeworks has recently produced The Block NZ, Secret Lives of Dancers, The Life and Times of Temuera Morrison and The GC, which Eyeworks international website describes as “one of the most talked about series in New Zealand”.

For Warners, the deal greatly expands the number of countries in which it has production capacity. The US TV market is saturated, and Warners has been looking in the last year to make more reality/fact-ent. By owning companies that can both make local versions of its US-developed shows, and gaining the chance to take formats from the Eyeworks Group into the US, Warners grows its capacity considerably.

Warners other TV production companies beyond the US are Shed Media (an umbrella for nine mostly UK-based companies, producers of The Voice) and Holland-Belgium-based BlazHoffski.

For Eyeworks, the deal is about money. The founders have built a business, mostly by acquisition, over the last 12 years. Most are ready to exit and take their winnings. CEO and co-founder Reinout Oerlemans isn`t quite ready to go, and will shift to America to chair Eyeworks USA, the one part of the Eyeworks not included in the sale.

The full release from Warners follows:

As part of the studio’s television growth strategy, Warner Bros. Television Group today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire all Eyeworks’ businesses outside the US, in 15 countries across Europe, South America, Australia and New Zealand, adding 13 new territories to its network of production companies. Once completed, this acquisition will further strengthen Warner Bros.’ international television production capabilities and see Warner Bros. take over all of Eyeworks international distribution activities.

The announcement was made by Jeffrey Schlesinger, President, Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution, Craig Hunegs President, Business and Strategy, Warner Bros. Television Group, Peter Roth, President and Chief Content Officer, Warner Bros. Television Group and Reinout Oerlemans, Founder and current Chief Executive Officer of the Eyeworks Group.

Founded in The Netherlands by Oerlemans in 2001, Eyeworks is a major international independent producer and distributor of scripted and non-scripted content across a range of genres, including entertainment, drama and film, which airs in more than 150 countries worldwide.

The pending acquisition of Eyeworks marks a milestone for Warner Bros. International Television Production, led by Ronald Goes, Executive Vice President & Head of Warner Bros. International Television Production, which was originally formed by WBTVG in 2009 to establish operating production companies.

Kevin Tsujihara, Chief Executive Officer, Warner Bros. Entertainment said: “Our proposed acquisition of Eyeworks’ 15 local production companies, represents a significant next step in our strategy, further strengthening Warner Bros.` position in global television .”

Hunegs, Schlesinger and Roth added: “This is an important move for the Warner Bros. Television Group, as we establish local production companies around the world, each with a mandate to develop original local programming and adapt the output from the studio. We see Eyeworks as a strong complement to our existing US and international production capabilities.”

This follows the acquisition in 2010 of Shed Media, one of the leading production companies in the UK, and in 2011, BlazHoffski in The Netherlands and Belgium.

In connection with the transaction, Reinout Oerlemans would move to Los Angeles for his new role in the industry, as Chairman of Eyeworks USA, leading the further expansion of that company in the USA. Reinout will step down as CEO of the Eyeworks Group once the acquisition has been completed.

Oerlemans said: “It’s fair to say that it got me thinking when Warner Bros. showed the strong interest in Eyeworks. For Eyeworks, this is a defining step towards our ongoing objective to be a major player in content production around the globe. I realize this is the end of an era, because I will no longer be the CEO of the Group, after an amazing period of 12.5 years since I’ve built the company from scratch together with Ronald van Wechem and Robert van den Bogaard. Together with CFO Jan Peter Kerstens we have created Eyeworks as what it is today: a creative and versatile content company, operating as a tight knit web around the world. I know Ronald Goes will be a tremendous leader for this fantastic group of talented people going forward”.

The acquisition of Eyeworks is expected to be complete later in 2014, subject to regulatory approvals.

ABN AMRO Bank together with the law firm Allen & Overy are the designated advisors to Eyeworks during this process.

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