Canada's Bell Media Buys Control of Pinewood Toronto Studios
Canada's Bell Media Buys Control of Pinewood Toronto Studios (The Hollywood Reporter Exclusive)
The country's biggest media player nabs the mega-studio where CBS All Access' 'Star Trek: Discovery' and Guillermo del Toro shoot.
Canadian media giant Bell Media has bought a controlling stake in Pinewood Toronto Studios, laying the groundwork for more Hollywood TV series to shoot on its sound stages via content equity and licensing deals.
The size of the stake and financial terms of the purchase agreement were not disclosed. The media subsidiary of Canadian phone giant BCE is acquiring a 45 percent stake in the mega-studio 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 Media, Canada's biggest media player, control of Pinewood's 33.5 acre studio complex, with 330,000 square feet of overall production space, including a 46,000 mega-stage.
Bell Media has already shot original series like the Tatiana Maslany-starrer Orphan Black and Killjoys on Pinewood's Toronto stages, which also hosts production for CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery series and earlier saw movies like Molly's Game, Suicide Squad and Guillermo del Toro's monster epic Pacific Rim shot on its stages.
Bell Media president Randy Lennox told The Hollywood Reporter that the transaction for Pinewood Toronto Studios reinforces his company's role as a leading Canadian content producer, with an eye to deal-making with Hollywood studios and other foreign players looking to his studio for sound stages.
"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 another 18 acres of land surrounding the studio will be immediately developed to add another 170,000 square feet of sound stages and production space to ease a chronic lack of studio space in Toronto.
And Bell Media, 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 possibly taking equity stakes in content that shoots on its stages at Pinewood Toronto Studios.
"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 Media buying into Pinewood Toronto Studios 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, the biggest part of the sector with series like Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, ABC's Designated Survivor and USA Network's Suits produced locally.
Bell Media already has premium U.S. TV brands like HBO, Showtime and Starz under its content umbrella via exclusive output deals. Additionally, Bell Media 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 it licenses for its broadcast and cable schedules, and its CraveTV streamer, to rent space at Pinewood Toronto Studios as they move beyond a pilot to first season production.
But to get there, Pinewood Toronto Studios must act quickly to build new production space. Despite Hollywood film and TV shoots being at record pace in Toronto, the city is losing out to Vancouver, Atlanta and New York City in the big-budget production arena due to a shortage of quality sound stages.
Rival Cinespace Film Studios, also filled to capacity and expanding, has plans to turn a waterfront cruise ship terminal near to Pinewood Toronto Studios into 165,000 square feet of new studio space.
Nanci MacLean, vp and head of Bell Media Studios, will now oversee operations of Pinewood Toronto Studios, with the U.K.-based Pinewood Studios Group continuing to help steer projects to the Toronto facility via a long-running management deal.
"Our Toronto studios are a film and television success story,” Comweb's Paul Bronfman, chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, said. "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."
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