Billionaire Saban buys back Power Rangers; Nickelodeon to carry new shows, movie planned

By Ryan Nakashima, AP
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mogul Saban buys back Power Rangers from Disney

LOS ANGELES — Media mogul Haim Saban is buying back the fist-pumping, multicolored superheroes known as the Power Rangers from the Walt Disney Co., hoping to launch the enduring franchise into a higher orbit.

The Egyptian-born billionaire made his fortune by licensing the Power Rangers from Japan back in the 1990s. He sold his half of the Fox Family Channel, which included the Power Rangers, to Disney in a deal worth $5.2 billion in 2001. His portion came to about $1.5 billion.

Now, he’s taking the team of morphing teenagers back.

And he’s got a distribution deal to show new and old episodes on Viacom Inc.’s Nickelodeon and Nicktoons cable channels. There are also plans to bring a Power Rangers movie back to theaters for the first time in more than a decade.

“We believe that we could bring a lot more energy and a lot more excitement to the Power Rangers franchise,” said Elie Dekel, the president of Saban Brands, a unit formed last week with $500 million in new capital. “We still felt there was room for the brand to be reignited and to once again grow.”

Terms of the purchase from Disney were not disclosed. Disney will retain the global cable channel infrastructure it got from the purchase of Fox Family.

Disney had been scaling back the presence of the Power Rangers, who tend to get in a lot of fights. It has been phasing out the program on its boy-focused cable channel Disney XD in foreign markets. Although it airs on Saturday mornings on the Disney-owned ABC broadcast network, new episodes have not been aired since December.

“From our perspective, it just doesn’t fit in our long-term programming strategy or with the Disney brand,” said Disney spokesman Jonathan Friedland.

New episodes kicking off the 18th season will play next spring on Nickelodeon and Nicktoons. Some of the catalog of 700 older episodes will hit Nicktoons later this year.

Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon, said the deal made sense to appeal to the channel’s core audience of children aged 6 to 11.

“When a property is able to sustain an audience for the number of seasons that this one has, it’s hard to do, and it’s hard to do it from scratch,” she said. “I think it is no small feat to have been able to sustain that kind of longevity and I think it’s really exciting to be able to keep it going.”

Every season there are new incarnations of the Power Rangers, but the theme of young teenagers living normal lives and being empowered to transform into superheroes in a fight of good versus evil hasn’t changed.

So far, Power Rangers episodes have aired in more than 60 countries, while merchandise and other materials have generated more than $5 billion in sales.

Bandai America Inc., a subsidiary of Japan’s Namco Bandai Holdings Inc., will continue to be the toy maker for the Power Rangers.

The acquisition is the first for Saban Brands, a subsidiary set up by Saban’s Saban Capital Group Inc. last week.

The entrepreneur made his fortune by licensing the Japanese characters from the Toei Company Ltd. He created new storylines, reshot them and sold the shows around the world.

Saban, 65, teamed up with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in the late 1990s to create the Fox Family Channel, then negotiated the sale of the whole package, including the Power Rangers, to Disney in 2001.

Saban Capital Group also owns a partial stake in Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc.

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