(Bloomberg Opinion) -- At first glance, Entertainment One Ltd. and Hasbro Inc. make for ideal bedfellows. The former makes kids TV hit Peppa Pig, the latter is the world’s biggest toymaker. Merge one with the other and you get a combined video and merchandising giant.
That’s why there’s sound strategic rationale for Hasbro’s planned 3.3 billion-pound ($4 billion) acquisition of the Toronto-based studio. It gets its trotters on some valuable kids’ franchises that it can turn into more toys, and it can use eOne’s TV and film production chops to exploit its own catalog of games, which span from Monopoly to Buckaroo! to Jenga.
Hasbro has a decent if not stellar track record of turning its game franchises into films. The Transformers and G.I. Joe movies have done well at the box office, though no one would accuse them of being critical successes.
That’s where reservations about the eOne deal come in. While it might be known as the firm behind Peppa Pig, the cartoon represents just 10% of its total revenue. The company’s family and brands business is expanding quickly, but its film and television division, which has made films such as Green Book and TV shows including The Walking Dead, contributes more sales and profit. It has something that Hasbro lacks: prestige.
Darren Throop, the eOne chief executive, prides himself on the quality of the film and TV productions. It’s easy to see how eOne stalwarts might find the prospect of churning out spinoffs from Hasbro’s board games and toys hard to stomach. Sure, the deal logic holds up on paper: 130 million pounds of anticipated synergies by 2022 could lead to returns from the deal nearing 8% based on analyst earnings forecasts, just about covering the cost of capital. And that's before any upside from selling more toys or making more films.
But are these firms as good a cultural fit as they insist? That might be the biggest hurdle to realizing the deal’s potential. That’s assuming it even completes. Right now, that’s in doubt. The stock traded as high as 5.90 pounds on Friday, above Hasbro’s 5.60 pounds-per-share bid, suggesting investors anticipate either an activist pushing the purchase price higher, or a counterbidder sticking their snout in. Rivals might include the Walt Disney Co., John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc, Vincent Bollore’s Vivendi SA, Comcast Corp. or even toymaking rival Mattel Inc.
The plethora of competing TV and film streaming services has sparked a fight for high-quality content, and eOne has some of the best, helped by relationships with Steven Spielberg, with whom it has a production joint venture, and super-producer Mark Gordon.
Disney expanded from a production company into a merchandising and theme park giant, and its success under CEO Bob Iger has been built around recognizable franchises such as Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar’s output. Hasbro is making a play to do the same but in the opposite direction. High-quality content is increasingly scarce and expensive, though. That might make eOne an equally tasty morsel for someone else.
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Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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