Cookie Jar in talks with investors


TORONTO -- Canadian animation producer Cookie Jar Group is speaking with potential new private equity investors -- with all options, including a sale of the company -- on the table.

"We've achieved our goal to turn around the company, and we're poised for continued dynamic growth," Cookie Jar CEO Michael Hirsh said Wednesday(April 25).

Hirsh, who along with his co-founders sold rival cartoon producer Nelvana Ltd. in 2000, returned in 2003 to lead a consortium including TD Capital Canadian Private Equity Partners and the giant OMERS pension fund that acquired and took rival Cinar Corp. private as part of a $144 million deal in early 2004.

Since then, Cookie Jar has maintained its profitable educational publishing business and resurrected the animation division after years of underinvestment and turmoil under the former ownership of Cinar co-founders Micheline Charest and Ronald Weinberg.

But now Cookie Jar needs growth capital to take its core businesses to the next level just as its equity investors consider cashing out, Hirsh said.

"For that reason, we're looking at potentially our private equity partners either exiting in whole or part, and new equity partners coming in," he said.

Hirsh and his investment partners are downplaying the likelihood of an initial public offering for Cookie Jar after recently exploring the option.

"Private equity is doing a lot of deals out there in our space. They're great partners," Hirsh said, adding he didn't relish the short horizons and financial disclosures that would come with a public listing for his company.

Hirsh also ruled out a merger or direct sale of Cookie Jar. But he did concede that if his current private equity investors put their stakes on the auction block in one go, that would constitute an outright sale requiring replacement investors.

"Management is looking to stay in and reinvest," he added.

Besides restoring such former Cinar brands as "Caillou" and "Arthur," Cookie Jar in recent years has unveiled new properties, including the popular "Doodlebops" and "Spider Riders" series.

Most recently at MIPTV, Cookie Jar unveiled four new cartoons, including three series set to bow on Kids' WB! on the CW in the fall -- "Magi-Nation," "Will & Dewitt" and "World of Quest," a sci-fi buddy series based on Jason Kruse's graphic novel series.

The Canadian producer is also producing "Busytown Mysteries (Hurray for Huckle!)," a cartoon based on a popular book series by the late Richard Scarry (HR 4/3).