In May 2010, media mogul Haim Saban bought back the martial-arts superhero brand known as The Power Rangers from The Walt Disney Co. (DIS). Nine years after he originally sold the franchise, he hopes to revitalize it under the umbrella of his newly formed business, Saban Brands. On the surface, it appears that both sides have benefited from this transaction.
The Power Rangers franchise is a live action television series for children. The show began as an American version of the Japanese Super Sentai series (with clips of the latter brand used in the creation of the new shows) and was part of the Fox Kids (owned by News Corp. (NWS) programming block in 1993. The show has run for 17 seasons. Two feature films were spawned from this brand, as well as numerous toy and merchandise items manufactured by Bandai. The Power Rangers also expanded into comic books, video games, card games, and even performed on Broadway under the title; “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers World Tour Live on Stage”. Despite some initial criticism for being too violent due to its martial arts content and other action scenes, the show went on to be one of the most popular children’s brands, and a big part of pop culture, in the 1990s.
In 2001, Disney purchased Saban Entertainment (which owned the Power Rangers franchise) and The Fox Family Worldwide Inc. as a package deal for approximately $5.2 billion. The name of the network was changed to ABC Family, and it was originally set to rerun episodes of ABC programming. Since the syndication rights of many of its shows were not owned by the company, though, the station underwent a number of changes over the years. The Power Rangers series was put into the hands of the newly formed BVS Entertainment (included a collection of brands purchased from Saban and The Fox News Corporation, among others). The Power Rangers were broadcast on a number of Disney-owned networks, but there appeared to be a lack of interest by Disney to expand the franchise by incorporating it under its wider-branded umbrella. This was likely due to complaints in regard to the show’s violence, which didn’t mesh with Disney’s “Family Friendly” image and reputation.
However, this experience probably helped Disney learn more about potential acquisitions. For example, it purchased Pixar in 2006 and Marvel Entertainment in 2009. With these additions, unlike the Power Rangers, Disney largely allowed previous management to continue to run the businesses. Rather than try to make them fit into the same mold as Disney’s original characters, the hands-off approach has enhanced the company’s market reach by appealing to a greater and more diverse audience. The creative distance has also helped Disney avoid hits to its reputation. As for Pixar and Marvel, they have benefited from greater distribution and marketing power. It’s possible that this strategy would have helped the Power Rangers succeed under Disney, but the sale allowed Disney to recoup most of what it paid for the franchise (the terms of the sale were not disclosed publicly). Although the Power Rangers didn’t flourish under Disney, the experience helped the media giant formulate an acquisition and operating strategy that may continue to unlock huge value for the company and its shareholders.
For Haim Saban and his Saban Brands subsidiary (of Saban Capital Group), they have the potential to take the Power Rangers brand to new heights. To reach this goal, Saban Brands will reportedly get an influx of $500 million from the Saban Capital Group, and with a new licensing deal with Viacom (VIA-B), old and new episodes will be shown on the Nickelodeon and Nicktoons channels (the 18th season is slated to premier in March 2011). With the original owner back in charge, The Power Rangers may be able to regain its luster and launch back into the limelight for a whole new audience. If the franchise’s popularity returns to previous levels, Viacom, along with others stand to benefit from higher ratings, elevated advertising revenues, and greater merchandise sales.