Blue Ant acquires majority stake in New Zealand TV channel

Deal aligns with Blue Ant's objective to become a global content company

Toronto’s Blue Ant Media has expanded its international footprint after acquiring what CEO Michael MacMillan calls a “significant” majority stake in New Zealand broadcaster Choice TV.

While the size and dollar value of the ownership stake were not disclosed, MacMillan said the deal aligns with the thee-year-old media company’s objective to become a global content company.

“From the very beginning, the basic idea of what Blue Ant is and wants to be, is a producer and distributor of interesting content, and we think the audience for that is international,” said MacMillan, the former Alliance Atlantis CEO who co-founded Blue Ant in 2011.

“We come at this from the perspective that Canada is a marvelous country and a great place, but obviously a small part of a much larger world.”

The deal has been in the works for several months, said MacMillan. It will be accretive for Blue Ant, though the chief executive refused to disclose financial details around the transaction. Choice TV’s management owns the rest of the company.

Launched in 2012, Choice TV is available throughout New Zealand on the Freeview and Sky services. Its programming aligns with Blue Ant content pillars such as travel, home décor and the outdoors, as well as food, real estate, comedy and drama.

Each day of the week is devoted to a different content vertical, such as travel on Mondays, property and design on Tuesdays and home and garden on Fridays. The weekends are devoted to entertainment programming.

Choice TV has historically relied on foreign programming from services such as the BBC, but has recently begun developing its own content such as its new cooking series Cook the Books and Get Growing.

MacMillan acknowledged the difference between the two countries, but said some of the programs created and commissioned by Blue Ant would find a “logical and interested” audience in New Zealand.

“They’re clearly distinctive markets, there are big differences between them, but there is an overlap and that is one of the appealing aspects [of the transaction],” he said.

This has been a particularly busy year for Blue Ant, which also invested in YouTube multi-channel network Omnia, opened a New York sales office, and recently brought aboard former AOL executive Laura Pearce as vice-president, brand strategy and fan engagement.

“It’s been a pleasing year,” said MacMillan. “When you’re only three-and-a-half years old, every year seems like a big year. Each year as we grow and establish our international activity a bit more, it’s pleasing because it brings us into contact with more industry players around the world.”

While ostensibly created as a broadcaster, Blue Ant’s capabilities have grown to include everything from digital to print and even consumer shows over its three-and-a-half year history.

“We’re technology agnostic, so our goal is to focus on a handful of content categories that we think we can produce excellent material for and be a world leader in, and have that content be delivered every which way,” said MacMillan.

While MacMillan said some of the moves undertaken by Blue Ant since it’s inception were unforeseeable – “I didn’t know what a multi-channel network was three years ago”  – he had an idea of how he wanted the company to evolve in the content space.

“We did have the general idea of parlaying what was a minority interest in Cottage Life into owning all of it, launching it as a channel, launching the Cottage Life consumer show,” he said. “The details have changed, but the basic spirit of being a content company with an international focus was and is the same thing.”

Asked about plans to crack the U.S. market, MacMillan responded simply, “we think America’s a great market: Lovely people, great country.”

MacMillan said Blue Ant remains in growth mode, and is looking to attain its objectives through a combination of acquisitions as well as launching new products. “These things always evolve on their own timetables, which are pretty unpredictable and unreliable. Some things take vastly longer than you ever thought, and some things jump into reality super quickly.”

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