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Coolabi hot-housing ideas after Working Partners deal

Coolabi, which owns or represents brands including Bagpuss, Purple Ronnie and Ivor the Engine, has a raft of new properties to work up for TV and other media after a deal that saw its financial backer Edge provide the funds for Jeremy Banks to acquire Working Partners. The latter has a US-style content division, which creates properties that are licensed to the publishing industry. Jeremy Banks tells TBI how Coolabi and Working Partners will work together.

Coolabi’s Poppy Cat

Venture capital trust Edge-backed backed Jeremy Banks to buy Working Partners earlier this year, and having engineered the deal, Banks is now getting the two working together.

“Working Partners is one of the leading creators of IP for kids 5-to-14 and thus far has mainly licensed its content to publishing partners,” Banks explains. “The model they have is established in the US, it’s an IP hot-house whereby they have a team of extremely good editors managing a pool of writers to produce a large body of content.”

The book specialist has over 1,000 titles in its catalogue. While some have been made into TV shows before, HIT Entertainment has made Return to Rainspell Island based on the Rainbow Magic book property and Animal Ark was also been made into a TV series by now defunct Byker Grove producer Zenith. Several other publishing properties are under option with producers.

Edge had already helped Banks engineer a management buyout of Coolabi (the IP firm was previously traded on the AIM market in the UK). Edge committed to providing funds for strategic acquisitions and the Working Partners deal duly followed. Coolabi and Working Partners will remain separate entities, but will work together.

One of the first points of action involves Coolabi’s head of content, Mike Dee, running the rule over Working Partners’ large library to see what should be developed for TV, with the first properties entering early development as soon as the fourth quarter.

Banks says: “At Coolabi the team’s expertise is in taking literary properties with potential and developing them into international properties that can be exploited across different platforms, so the Working Partners deal is a tremendous opportunity. The Coolabi team will work with Working Partners and look at developing ideas from its existing catalogue.

That Working Partners’ model could also be applied to how we develop TV content in the UK. A lot of what is made here pales in comparison to that of the US where they use teams of writers. Jeremy Banks, chief executive, Coolabi

“That Working Partners’ model could also be applied to how we develop TV content in the UK. A lot of what is made here pales in comparison to that of the US where they use teams of writers. Also, because Working Partners is successful doing what it does, it hasn’t really looked at aging its content up or down or expanding in to different genres, which is another opportunity.”

Coolabi, which is expected to announce a couple of TV commissions in the near future, will facilitate any Working Partner TV deals, but will not necessarily produce the Working Partners IP selected, with some content earmarked as possible feature film projects and others likely to be produced, or coproduced by third parties.
The backing from Edge, meanwhile, will allow Coolabi to more speedily usher properties through development and into production and Banks says there will likely be more acquisitions.

“One of the key reasons for the management buyout was that after the economic crisis AIM was not delivering what we needed, which was access to funds to grow the business. I was brought in to Coolabi (from Chorion) to turn the business around and assets were acquired, developed and launched, then we wanted to pursue transformational growth, Edge was already a shareholder and recognised that AIM wouldn’t allow us to do those deals.”