Media mogul launches Saban Brands

Media mogul Haim Saban wants to become a brand mogul, too.

Saban, who first earned a fortune with "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and now is chairman and chief executive of Saban Capital Group, which counts the powerful Spanish-language broadcast network Univision among its holdings, is launching a new company, Saban Brands, and says he is committing $500 million in capital to acquire established entertainment and consumer names.

Brands have become one of the latest obsessions for companies looking to reach consumers beyond traditional media.

Discovery Communications is teaming up with Hasbro to launch a kids' cable channel that hopes to use the popular toy brand as the foundation of a cable network. Oprah Winfrey has turned herself into a brand with her own magazine and soon-to-launch cable network. And Walt Disney Co. is stressing the importance of making movies that can be marketed as brands through its stores and theme parks.

"As media and consumer options become increasingly fragmented and proliferated, our underlying thesis is that properties that resonate with consumers today will only become more meaningful over time," Saban said.

Saban has tapped Elie Dekel as president of Saban Brands. Dekel most recently was head of licensing and merchandising for 20th Century Fox, where he was involved in managing licensing for the Fox television hits "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" as well as the movies "Avatar" and "Ice Age." Dekel has previous ties to Saban, having worked with him at Saban Entertainment and as president of Fox Family Worldwide, of which Saban owned 50%.

Saban seems to be borrowing a page from the playbook of Iconix Brand Group, the British company that has become a major player in that brand arena. Iconix now owns clothing lines including London Fog, Candie's and Joe Boxer, and just struck a deal with the family of the late cartoonist Charles Schulz to buy the Peanuts brand from E.W. Scripps Co. for $175 million.

"A combination of Iconix and Marvel" is how Adam Chesnoff, president and chief operating officer of Saban Capital, described the effort. Chesnoff said the company had been kicking the tires of various brands for a year and is expected to have deals in the works shortly.

Despite the marketing edge a celebrity's name can bring to a brand, the strategy is far from foolproof, especially when the brand becomes passe or damaged. The recent fallout from the Tiger Woods scandal is one example, as is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose personal life suddenly has become national news.

Neither Chesnoff nor Dekel ruled out looking at acquiring production companies that had brand potential, but the two stressed that rather than acquire media properties to develop into brands, they were more likely to buy preexisting brands that could be exploited in retail and media.

Saban Brands said it also could get into the celebrity business similar to the way CKX Inc. manages the branding of soccer star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria Beckham, through sponsorships and merchandizing.

One area Saban Brands may want to become a player in is the food business. "Food has become a very hot category in media," Dekel said, noting the popularity of food shows on cable networks such as TLC and Bravo, as well as stand-alone cable networks devoted to the topic such as the Food Network.

Saban, who is active in Democratic politics and an avid supporter of Israel, ran a powerful children's programming empire that became the basis of Fox Family Worldwide, which he co-owned with News Corp. until it was sold to Disney 10 years ago.

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