Japan’s SoftBank had been very publicly kicking the tires of DreamWorks Animation but its interest reportedly shifted this week to Thomas Tull’s Legendary Entertainment soon after DWA talks cooled. Now there’s a deal: The companies just announced SoftBank will invest $250 million in Legendary and the two will form a joint venture to exploit the production company’s intellectual property rights worldwide. That includes TV, digital, licensing and merchandising on various platforms — with a focus on the China and India markets.
SoftBank’s investment is expected to close in this month, and Softbank Vice Chairman Nikesh Arora, also CEO of SoftBank Internet and Media, will join Legendary’s board of directors as part of the deal.
“[SoftBank CEO] Masayoshi Son has built SoftBank into one of the world’s most respected companies,” Tull said in announcing the deal. “With the arrival of Nikesh and the launch of SIMI, they have a great opportunity to extend their reach into media and entertainment. We are excited to be one of SIMI’s first partners and look forward to working together to deliver the next phase of Legendary’s growth.”
On Monday, the same day that the SoftBank-DWA talks cooled over a potential offer that would have put a $3.3B valuation on the independent studio, the Japanese telco/Internet company turned its attention to an equity stake in Legendary, which aligned with NBCUniversal last year. Its credits include the Dark Knight and Hangover films and the upcoming pics Interstellar and Unbroken.
DWA was not mentioned in today’s announcement but it’s clear SoftBank will be looking for more content partners to grow SIMI. “Our goal at SIMI is to leverage SoftBank’s international platform and network of Internet and media partners to accelerate content creators’ digital strategies and extend their global reach,” Arora said. “Legendary is already a content powerhouse and we are very excited to make this investment and help them bring their incredibly successful film franchises and other exciting new media content to an even larger global audience.”
SoftBank is the No. 3 wireless provider in Japan, and a player in the U.S. following its $21.6B acquisition last year of Sprint. It also is the largest stakeholder in recent IPO phenom Alibaba, with a 32% stake worth more than $71 billion, and it owns a 41.9% voting stake in Yahoo Japan. The company’s vision certainly includes entertainment: Aside from the DWA bid, in 2013 SoftBank purchased online game company GungHo Online Entertainment and Finland’s Supercell while failing in a takeover bid for Universal Music.
SoftBank’s U.S. shares have appreciated nearly 77% over the past two years. But investors have been skeptical about its acquisition spree; the stock is only up 1.5% over the past 12 months.