Kids TV Vet Andy Heyward and Wife Announce Joint Venture With Indian Company Tata

Andy Heyward Headshot - P 2011
Kris Connor/Getty Images

Andy Heyward Headshot - P 2011

A Squared Elxsi Entertainment will be funded by the mega-conglomerate with plans to develop and distribute original entertainment for children, including animation, video games and consumer products.

Kids TV veteran Andy Heyward and his wife Amy, formerly a top marketing executive with McDonalds and the Los Angeles Times, announced a joint venture with Indian mega-conglomerate Tata late Thursday to create, develop and distribute original entertainment for children, including animation, video games and consumer products.

Heyward said in an interview on Friday that he began looking for new challenges after he sold his interest in kid’s animation powerhouse DIC Entertainment in 2008 (for a reported $90 million) which was a year after he married Amy. He said they wanted to create a new venture but felt the need to take a step back first and look at the market.

“We looked at where the kid’s business was going and at how media was being consumed in a rapidly changing world with digital technology expanding overnight, cannibalization of various media, fragmentation and habits changing faster than anybody could imagine,” says Heyward. “We saw that kids were early adaptors of all of these new technologies.”

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In 2009, they formed A Squared Entertainment, to produce what they called “content with a mission,” which meant shows that would educate and enrich the lives of children as well as entertain.

They began to produce web series first including the Secret Millionaire’s Club, with Warren Buffet voicing himself, to teach children about finance; Martha & Friends, with a 10-year-old Martha Stewart showing kids how to create crafts and events; and Gisele & the Green Team, with supermodel Gisele Bundchen sharing lessons about the environment.

They also formed a joint venture in 2010 with Marvel legend Stan Lee and Archie Comics to create new comic characters, especially superheroes, for comic books, animation, movies and merchandising. After stumbling at the start because the first product shared the name of an existing toy, they regrouped and in March will put out the first of at least five comic books with completely new characters, this one called Stan Lee and the Mighty 7, about seven super heroes.

There was also a high profile announcement at MIP last April about an animated show called The Governator, featuring former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a crime fighting superhero. However that was put on hold after Schwarzenegger announced his divorce. Heyward won’t say if that is alive or dead.

A year ago the Heyward’s began making trips to India to negotiate with Tata, a conglomerate with over $83 billion in annual sales that owns such brands as Jaguar and Land Rover automobiles, Tetley Tea and extensive business interests in India.

Tata fit in with what the Heyward’s mission because while it is a public company, it is two-thirds owned by charitable trusts.

Tata’s operations include Tata Elxsi, a design company that uses technology to transform ideas into products. They have computing, visual effects, 3D and animation facilities for their own products and that they hire out to others like Electronic Arts, for whom they help create video games. They won an award from the Visual Effects Society last year for work on the 3-D feature Roadside Romeo, produced by Yashraj Films and Disney.

Tata is fully funding A Squared Elxsi Entertainment, which Andy and Amy Heyward co-chair and will manage. Tata and the Heyward’s each own 50% of the private company. Heyward won’t say how much Tata is committed to investing except that it is in the “millions of dollars.”

Joining the board is Elizabeth Daley, dean of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Two other board seats are being filled by Tata Elxsi executives, CEO Madhukar Dev and S. Nagrajan, Tata Elxsi’s Visual Computing Lab Chief Operating Officer.

“This venture will combine the best of creative and marketing skills from Hollywood and the animation production experience and scale of Visual Computing Labs of Tata Elxsi to create meaningful and purposeful content of which we can all be proud of,” said Nagarajan in a statement.

The partnership was facilitated by L.A. based producer and consultant Vijay Amritraj, a former pro tennis star who is also a sports commentator. Amritraj remains involved in an advisory role.

Tata Elxsi’s Embedded Product Design division will provide the joint venture software, hardware, system design and development programming for gaming, multi media and high performance computing.

Tata Elxsi’s Industrial Design division provides them brand and product development services, including consumer electronics and digital user experiences.

This past summer A Squared moved animation of the Martha Stewart series, which airs online and on the Hallmark channel, to Tata animation, which in the future will do most of their work. The 26 episodes of Secret Millionaires continue to be made in China.

Four episodes of Secret Millionaires have been sold to The Hub cable channel, and Heyward said they are in talks for the rest.

One of the first projects expected to be made in India is Stan Lee’s first animated feature, which will be officially announced next year.

Next April, A Squared Elxsi Entertainment will also launch its own foreign sales company at the MIP Market in Cannes, France.

By absorbing the products and staff of A Squared, the new joint venture based in Beverly Hills arrives fully staffed. Greg Payne is COO, Mike Mihani is head of creative affairs, Mark Young is head of production and Laurie Windro is VP of consumer products.

Amy Heyward will oversee marketing, brand development and consumer products. She left her position as global director of marketing at the L.A. Times in 2008 to form A Squared.

One new business venture is creating and managing a licensing business for Build A Bear, a chain of several hundred retail stores in the U.S. Kids come to the store to create their own bear.

Build A Bear will launch a toy line next year through Playmates, food products through Con Agra and other products.

Amy Heyward says while the old model was to create half hour TV shows for kids and then spin off products and versions for other distribution platforms, they want to do it differently.

"We purposely start online where we can produce faster and make it interactive,” she explains. “They we very quickly can see what the kids like and what they don’t like. It helps us form the creative process and build an audience while preparing for other media.”

Heyward says his non-compete clause from the DIC sale expires at the end of this month, but that it isn’t a problem because what he is doing with his new company is outside of that agreement.

He also likes working with his wife: “Amy and I are very different but we compliment each other like any good partnership.”