EXCLUSIVE: Skydance Media, which in March raised $700 million in new financing to grow its company, has moved aggressively in the area of interactive entertainment. David Ellison’s production/financing company has acquired leading game developer The Workshop Entertainment, Inc. He will use that as the beachhead to launch Skydance Interactive, LLC, a subsidiary that will create and own original video games and virtual reality experiences.
The deal gives Skydance Media the capability to vertically integrate its IP across film, TV and interactive platforms. The company will self-publish and digitally distribute Skydance Interactive titles for the leading VR hardware including Oculus, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. The Workshop will continue to offer its robust console game services, but the goal is for the acquired company to evolve into a leading-edge virtual reality developer as Skydance Interactive.
It was clear this kind of expansion was on the horizon when Ellison locked the new financing, which consists of $200 million in equity from a group of investors, and a $500 million line of credit from JPMorgan Chase. Ellison, who formed Skydance in 2010 as a venture that began as the most active co-financing partner of Paramount Pictures, has been moving toward more of an emphasis on its own homegrown creations. Skydance continues to be a partner in many of that studio’s biggest franchises including the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible films, World War Z, Jack Reacher and Terminator Genisys. Interactive was a priority area for expansion.
Skydance has a busy upcoming slate, teamed with Sony Pictures to co-finance the Mars mission film Life, which Daniel Espinosa will direct with Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson. Ellison also did the Dean Devlin-directed Geostorm with Warner Bros. He formed Skydance Television in 2014 and has four original series on its slate including Grace And Frankie, and Altered Carbon for Netflix, Red Mars for Spike TV and Jack Ryan for Amazon, which just got John Krasinski as the title character.
Skydance has produced 10 features since 2010, with $4 billion in worldwide grosses. Next up is the July 22 release Star Trek Beyond and October 21 release Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, in partnership with Paramount. Geostorm will be released January 13, 2017 by Warner Bros, and Life by Sony on March 24, 2017.
“We believe that virtual reality is the perfect medium by which to create an interactive platform where immersive storytelling intersects with active gameplay, which has long been a goal of ours at Skydance Media,” said CEO Ellison. “We are making a significant investment in virtual reality with the launch of Skydance Interactive, which allows us not only to develop and publish original games but also to extend the reach of our existing franchises. I am proud that we have found our ideal partners in The Workshop and am thrilled to welcome Peter, Chris, and the rest of the team into the Skydance family.”
Said Skydance Interactive CEO Peter Akemann: “Skydance clearly shares our belief at The Workshop that virtual reality will profoundly affect the human experience. “It is absolutely exhilarating to be on the front lines of the revolution developing cutting-edge gaming experiences and there is no one with whom we would rather be in business than the innovative team at Skydance.”
The Workshop was launched in 2008 by the co-founder and original members of Treyarch, which sold to Activision in 2001 and now leads the Call of Duty franchise. Peter Akemann co-founded Treyarch in 1995, where he oversaw the development of the company’s cross-platform graphics engine. He has shipped over 20 titles across first-, second- and next-generation platforms. Chris Busse, GM of The Workshop, helped Akemann lead the expansion of the Treyarch team from three to over 200 employees. Their combined experience spans the breadth of acclaimed franchise games such as The Evil Within, Armored Warfare, Free Realms, Medal Of Honor and Spiderman, among others.