Nearly two decades after billionaire Haim Saban made his fortune with help from a group of crime-fighting teens and some digital monsters, his Saban Brands is once again calling on Power Rangers and Digimon to help re-create his success with a new generation of children.
But this time around, he’ll have the forces of the online world and the changing children’s TV landscape also to contend with.
Saban Brands, the brand management arm of Century City’s Saban Capital Group Inc., announced last week its acquisition of Japanese anime franchise “Digimon.” It’s the latest step in the company’s four-year buildup of its portfolio.
Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands, said the digital world of “Digimon” should resonate with today’s web-savvy children.
“When ‘Digimon’ was introduced to kids in the late ’90s, kids didn’t really know much about digital,” he said. “Today, it is the world they live in. We see a tremendous opportunity for the property to be introduced in an environment where it’s finally come of age.”
Saban first made American hits out of the Japanese franchises in the 1990s. Their success helped establish his fortune. This year he ranked No. 8, with a net worth of $3.35 billion, on the Business Journal’s Wealthiest Angelenos list.
He unloaded the properties in 2001 with the $5.3 billion sale, including assumption of debt, of Fox Family Worldwide Inc., which he co-owned with News Corp., to Walt Disney Co.
But in 2010, Saban Brands acquired “Power Rangers” back from Disney and rebooted the franchise, launching a Nickelodeon show in 2011. Since then, the company has purchased several brands such as Paul Frank, which is known for the character Julius the Monkey, and digital platforms, including kid-friendly Internet portal Zui.
The reacquisition of “Digimon” gives Saban Brands the rights to the franchise outside of Asia. The company will distribute the new series, “Digimon Fusion,” and its library of more than 250 old episodes through MarVista Entertainment, a Mar Vista distribution and production company.
Dekel, who has worked with Saban since the early 1990s, said the company’s familiarity with the “Power Rangers” and “Digimon” brands made them attractive acquisitions.
“When we have the personal history and track record with the brand, it certainly becomes more compelling,” he said. “In the case of ‘Digimon,’ it was a success for us and we believe it can be again.”
Saban Brands will announce specifics of the “Digimon” relaunch in the coming weeks, but Dekel said it will be the first brand to take advantage of Saban Brand’s new ecosystem of traditional and digital platforms.
Zac Bertschy, the executive editor of Montreal anime blog AnimeNewsNetwork.com, said that Digimon will need a big relaunch to reach the popularity that it saw a decade ago. But it already has a built in base of young adults who remember it from their childhood days.
“It doesn’t seem like the powerhouse brand that it was in the late 1990s,” said Bertschy, based in Fullerton. “But there’s a contingent of young people who still follow it. There’s a tremendous amount of nostalgia for ‘Digimon’ out there.”
One traditional platform where “Digimon” will likely find a home is on Vortexx, a five-hour block of children’s programming that airs every Saturday morning on the CW network.
Major broadcasters have long considered Saturday mornings a staple in children’s programming, but have cut back on the time slot in recent years as 24-hour children’s channels such as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have dominated the space.
Now, however, longtime leader Nickelodeon faces declining ratings, which could leave room for Vortexx to reignite interest in Saturday morning programming, said Todd Juenger, a senior analyst covering media for Sanford C. Bernstein in New York.
“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “Certainly that creates an environment that makes it more likely for any newcomers to try and stake a claim in that audience that’s up for grabs.”
Saban Brands launched Vortexx and accompanying web portal Vortexx.com in August in partnership with the CW, which is jointly owned by CBS Corp. and Warner Bros.
The programming, which features a classic “Power Rangers” show, a new program produced by World Wrestling Entertainment and several animated series, is looking to target young boys.
Since its launch, Vortexx original series “WWE Saturday Morning Slam” has averaged 994,000 viewers ages 2 and up and the classic series “Power Rangers Lost Galaxy” has averaged 604,000 viewers in the same category, according to Nielsen ratings.
Saban Brands will continue to work with Nickelodeon – the network currently airs new episodes of “Power Rangers Super Samurai” – even as it strikes deals with other networks and continues to develop Vortexx, Dekel said.
“There’s certainly been a lot of movement in the kid’s business in terms of viewership and intellectual property,” he said. “In times of change, it creates opportunity. It’s that opportunity that we’re excited about.”
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