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Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s company sells minority stake to former Disney execs

Will Smith's company Westbrook has sold a minority stake to an investment firm run by former Disney executives.
Will Smith’s company Westbrook has sold a minority stake to an investment firm run by former Disney executives.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s entertainment company Westbrook has sold a minority stake to a Blackstone-backed investment firm run by two former top Walt Disney Co. executives, the companies confirmed Tuesday.

The buyer is Candle Media, an entity launched by Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer, the ex-Disney executives who have been moving quickly to scoop up content makers to capitalize on the heightened demand for movies, TV shows and other programming online.

Financial details were not disclosed. The Information first reported the deal.

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Founded 2½ years ago, Westbrook has delivered such productions as the 2021 Warner Bros. movie “King Richard,” the Facebook Watch talk show “Red Table Talk” and HBO Max’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” reunion. It has also produced series for Disney+, Snapchat, Netflix and Hulu.

The deal is the latest for Staggs and Mayer’s company, which most recently was reportedly close to a deal to buy Faraway Road, the production company of “Fauda” creators Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz.

They previously acquired “Cocomelon” studio Moonbug Entertainment in a deal valued at $3 billion and bought Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine in a transaction valuing the “Big Little Lies” production company at $900 million.

Their buying spree reflects a larger splurge by companies trying to get in on the streaming boom. Amazon is trying to buy MGM Studios for $8.45 billion, pending regulatory approval. LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Co. last year secured a private equity investment valuing their entertainment venture at $725 million.

Hello Sunshine, “South Park” and MGM deals reveal how streaming is boosting the value of content brands, not just libraries.

Staggs and Mayer have been active buyers since leaving Disney. Staggs was chief operating officer of the Burbank entertainment giant until leaving in 2016. Mayer, the architect of Disney+ and multiple key acquisitions, exited in 2020 for a short stint as head of social media app TikTok. Both left the company after being passed over to succeed Bob Iger as chief executive.

But while the firm has moved quickly to roll up high-profile producers amid the surge in demand for content during the streaming wars and the pandemic, it remains unclear to many in the entertainment industry how the duo will leverage the disparate collection of brands.

In fact, before Tuesday, Staggs and Mayer’s company had not disclosed its name, adding to the intrigue. In a news release, the company said the Candle moniker “reflects the light of creativity at the heart of its model as an independent, creator-friendly home for cutting-edge, high-quality, category-defining brands and franchises.”

In a statement announcing the Westbrook investment, Staggs and Mayer credited Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Westbrook Chief Executive Ko Yada with having “established Westbrook as a home for world-class creators that is built for the digital age — which fully aligns with our company’s vision for the future of media.”

Separately from the Blackstone-backed venture, Staggs and Mayer sponsored a special purpose acquisition company that in February announced a merger with at-home fitness company Beachbody and exercise equipment maker Myx Fitness Holdings in a bid to compete with Peloton.

Calabasas-based Westbrook’s upcoming projects include the slave thriller “Emancipation” starring Will Smith, which sold to Apple TV+. The company is also behind “Bel-Air,” a dramatic reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” expected to premiere in February on Comcast Corp.’s Peacock.


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