Canada's Bell Media Buys Control of Pinewood Toronto Studios (Exclusive)

Pinewood Toronto Studios - Screenshot - H 2018
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The country's biggest media player nabs the megastudio where CBS All Access' 'Star Trek: Discovery' and Guillermo del Toro shoot.

Canadian giant Bell Media has bought a controlling stake in Pinewood Toronto Studios, laying the groundwork for more Hollywood TV series to shoot on its soundstages via content equity and licensing deals.

The size of the stake and financial terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The media subsidiary of Canadian phone giant BCE is acquiring a 45 percent stake in the megastudio from pension fund ROI Capital, though, and picking up additional shares from the remaining three co-owners – Comweb Studios Holdings, Castlepoint Realty Partners and the city of Toronto – to nab a majority stake in the 11-stage facility.

The deal hands Bell, Canada's biggest media player, control of Pinewood's 33.5-acre complex, with 330,000 square feet of overall production space, including a 46,000 megastage.

Bell has shot original series such as the Tatiana Maslany starrer Orphan Black and Killjoys on Pinewood's stages, which also host production of CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery series. Movies including Molly's Game, Suicide Squad and Guillermo del Toro's monster epic Pacific Rim have been shot there.

Bell president Randy Lennox told The Hollywood Reporter that the transaction for Pinewood Toronto reinforces his company's role as a leading Canadian content producer, with an eye to dealmaking with Hollywood studios and other foreign players looking to his complex for soundstages.

"We’re excited about the synergies that Pinewood Toronto can offer and the role it will play in generating new revenue streams (on) an open-shop basis," he said. Lennox added that an additional 18 acres of land surrounding the studio will be developed to provide 170,000 more square feet of soundstages and production space to ease a chronic lack of industry space in the city.

Bell, which is already in the content business to feed its Canadian broadcast, cable and streaming platforms, is talking to Hollywood studios and other foreign players about them possibly taking equity stakes in content that shoots on its stages at Pinewood Toronto.

"We are very interested in co-productions with others and we feel that our ownership offers an additional dialogue around those possibilities and is certainly another one of the boxes that we're checking," Lennox said. Bell buying into Pinewood Toronto  underlines how, for all the Oscar best picture winners like The Shape of Water and Spotlight that shoot in Toronto, the local production scene is really driven by TV, with series including Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, ABC's Designated Survivor and USA Network's Suits produced locally.

Bell  already has premium U.S. TV brands like HBO, Showtime and Starz under its content umbrella via exclusive output deals. Additionally, the company is a major buyer of rookie and returning U.S. series at the annual Los Angeles Screenings, and it is looking to get U.S. shows licensed for its broadcast and cable schedules, and its CraveTV streamer to rent space at Pinewood Toronto as they move beyond a pilot to first-season production.

But to hit those targets, Pinewood Toronto must act quickly to build production space. Despite Hollywood film and TV shoots occurring at record pace in Toronto, the city is losing out to Vancouver, Atlanta and New York in the big-budget production arena due to a shortage of quality soundstages.

Rival Cinespace Film Studios, also filled to capacity and expanding, has plans to turn a waterfront cruise ship terminal near Pinewood Toronto into 165,000 square feet of new studio space.

Nanci MacLean, vp and head of Bell Media, will oversee operations of Pinewood Toronto, with the U.K.-based Pinewood Studios Group continuing to help steer projects to the Canadian facility via a long-running management deal.

"Our Toronto studios are a film and television success story,” said Comweb's Paul Bronfman, chairman of Pinewood Toronto. "We look forward to working with Randy and the Bell Media team to produce more high-caliber and innovative programming right here in Toronto and I’m sure that the ongoing sales and marketing support from Pinewood U.K. will continue to be a significant advantage for our business."