Starz Unloads Majority Stake in Starz Animation Toronto

A Canadian consortium purchases control of the Toronto studio following its successful work on "Gnomeo & Juliet."

TORONTO – At it pivots toward producing more live-action TV, Starz has sold a majority stake in the Starz Animation Toronto studio to a local consortium.

The transaction follows hot on the heels of the Toronto studio’s work on the box-officer earner Gnomeo & Juliet, an animated feature for Touchstone/Rocket and Elton John’s Rocket Pictures.

Terms of the deal unveiled by Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht were not disclosed, but the transaction will leave the U.S. company with a minority stake in the Toronto cartoon and VFX factory to be controlled by a holding company led by veteran marketing executive J. Thomas Murray and executive producer Steven B. Hecht.

The deal will also leave in place a $23 million cash injection from the Ontario government to maintain the studio's work force and a $12 million financing deal with the Royal Bank of Canada to interim finance local tax breaks.

Canadian control of Starz Animation Toronto will also enable the production house to tap more generous subsidies for homegrown animation and VFX production, beyond those available to foreign producers.

"As a minority partner, we remain committed to the growth of the company," Albrecht said in a statement. "Starz is turning its primary focus more toward globally appealing live-action TV programming, and we are confident that the best way for the animation studio to continue its growth is to go forward under Canadian majority ownership."

Starz Animation Toronto is already at work on VFX for the Starz miniseries Camelot.

"Certainly the most recent evidence of the team's quality is the impressive debut of Gnomeo & Juliet, which earned more than $100 million worldwide since opening on Feb. 11, and the work of Starz Animation Toronto has been credited for a large part of the film’s success," Hecht said in his own statement. "We plan to use this impressive track record as the platform for aggressive growth."

Besides Gnomeo & Juliet, Starz Animation Toronto's credits include work on the animated feature 9, from Focus Features; the upcoming Hoodwinked Too!: Hood Vs. Evil, for Kanbar Entertainment and the Weinstein Co.; and the holiday TV special Yes, Virginia for Macy’s, the Ebeling Group and JWT.