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February 11, 2016

Thunderbird Considers IPO After Netflix Deal for Beatles Themed Show


Doug Alexander / Bloomberg

Armed with a little help from a Netflix Inc. deal and tunes of The Beatles, Canada’s Thunderbird Films Inc. is considering an initial public offering.

A listing would give investors a chance to buy into the production firm’s Beatles-inspired “Beat Bugs” animated children’s series, a “Blade Runner” sequel and a catalog of more than 500 hours of Canadian and U.S. television content.

“We’ve got a solid foundation of intellectual property, assets and shareholders and we are in what we’d call a state of readiness to go public,” Chief Executive Officer Tim Gamble, 59, said in an interview from Vancouver, where the company is based. “We’re prepared to, if we think it’s a good opportunity.”

Netflix, the world’s largest paid online TV network, said Wednesday in a statement it’ll debut Beat Bugs this August. Thunderbird is co-producer and an investor in the show about the adventures of five whimsical insects with themes based on Beatles music and sung by artists including Eddie Vedder, P!nk and Chris Cornell. Thunderbird’s Atomic Cartoons studio, which employs 240 people in Vancouver, is doing the animation. Filmmaker Josh Wakely is writing, directing and producing the series after he secured a deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC for worldwide rights to record Beatles song covers for the show.

Lions Gate

Beat Bugs is one of about 14 projects being undertaken by Thunderbird companies, which include Reunion Pictures, Great Pacific Media, U.K.-based theatrical distributor Soda Pictures and a joint venture with Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., Hollywood’s biggest independent movie studio.

Thunderbird is also involved in a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction film “Blade Runner”, with filming set to start in Budapest this July, according to Gamble. Gamble, Scott and Thunderbird board director Frank Giustra are executive producers on the film starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. Thunderbird owns 50 percent of the underlying rights for Blade Runner 2 and licensed the feature film rights to Alcon Entertainment LLC, Gamble said.

Bigger Better

“What really makes us unique is the size of the brands we’re involved in,” Gamble said. “In the science fiction world it doesn’t come much bigger than Blade Runner and in the music world it doesn’t come much bigger than the Lennon and McCartney catalog.”

Thurderbird has drawn industry expertise for its board and management from people such as Giustra, the former mining financier who founded Lions Gate, as well as one-time CTVglobemedia CEO Ivan Fecan as executive chairman and board director Francesco Aquilini, whose family owns the Vancouver Canucks National Hockey League team. The company’s investors include its directors and Difference Capital Financial Inc., a Toronto-based investment firm focused on technology and media.

Thunderbird is working with investment bankers at Canaccord Genuity Group Inc., National Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank for its plans, including the potential public offering, which Gamble anticipates could happen within the next couple years.

“We are doing some M&A in the meantime, we’ve been doing acquisitions and will continue to do that,” he said. “As we do that it changes our size and scale, so probably the longer we wait, the larger the IPO we’ll end up doing.”

Gamble said he’d prefer an IPO within a C$100 million ($72 million) range, though nothing has been decided.

“Bigger is better,” he said. “It’s hard to be a micro public company.”