Saban invests in digital media

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Saban Capital Group has set up an investment group that will inject capital and industry expertise into digital media companies of varying development stages, with the red-hot Southern California market being one key focus.

The company, owned by media entrepreneur Haim Saban, has named venture capital and digital veteran Craig Cooper managing director and head of the new digital media investment group.

Based in Los Angeles, he will scour the U.S. and international markets for opportunities across all investment stages -- from early-stage fundings to private-equity-style investments in, or buyouts of, more mature businesses. Cooper also will oversee the digital media strategies of Saban Capital's investments, which include Spanish-language broadcaster Univision.

"No one has truly put down a flag in Southern California to support entrepreneurs in digital media," Cooper told The Hollywood Reporter. "We want to do that and also provide true strategic value for companies."

As interesting areas for possible digital media investments, the Australia native mentioned online video, content applications and services, content studios, next-generation broadband, messaging and wireless services, as well as gaming and community platforms.

"We see -- including at our companies -- that almost every aspect of the old media industry is impacted by new media," SCG president and COO Adam Chesnoff said. "And that creates, in our view, new business opportunities with attractive growth prospects."

Asked about possibly bigger deals, he pointed to a recent agreement by private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman to take private Getty Images for $2.1 billion as one of the first big media buyouts with a strong digital component.

Chesnoff added that SCG's new digital media investment arm will mainly focus on getting "significant" returns on investments and on being "an incubation platform" rather than on helping Saban's own content production work. SCG typically is the lead or co-lead investor in deals.

The Los Angeles-San Diego area has seen a rapid expansion of startups in recent years, with digital media ventures particularly strong in the larger Los Angeles region.

Cooper and Chesnoff said that the new Saban digital media investment operation could well be the biggest in the region. And "no other media investment group in Southern California has that capability (to invest across stages of development) and depth of operating expertise," Cooper said.

Cooper most recently was a director of PureVideo Networks (owner of StupidVideos.com and GrindTV.com), AmpTech Design, Thumbplay, YouMail and Shanghai-based wireless services company EBT Mobile China. He also served as a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners and was a founding partner in the SoftBank Capital Technology Fund.
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