Muppets creator Jim Henson's children will pay $78-million to buy back a piece of the puppet franchise they sold three years ago to EM.TV & Merchandising AG, a Germany media company seeking to reduce debt.
The acquisition will return the rights to Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog to the children of puppeteer Jim Henson, who died in 1990.
Some other Henson creations, Elmo and Big Bird, aren't among the assets his children are buying back because EM.TV sold the rights to those Sesame Street characters to the Children's Television Workshop for about $287-million in late 2000, EM.TV chief financial officer Andreas Pres said Wednesday.
Since then, Jim Henson Co. hasn't turned a profit, said Brian Henson, who is buying the company along with his brother, John, and his sisters, Lisa, Cheryl and Heather.
Miss Piggy and Kermit are as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, Brian Henson said.
Those characters "were and still are this company's core assets," he said. "We have to be able to grow that as a business again."
EM.TV will use the $78-million, plus $11-million in cash on Jim Henson Co.'s balance sheet, to pay debt that piled up after the company expanded beyond the business of making children's films. EM.TV paid $680-million for Jim Henson Co. in early 2000, most of it in stock.
After the sale Wednesday, shares of EM.TV rose as much as 21 cents to 1.19 euros and traded at 1.07 euros as of 7:35 p.m. in Frankfurt.
The sale comes two months after EM.TV canceled an agreement to sell a 49.9 percent stake in Jim Henson Co. to Dean Valentine, a former head of Viacom Inc.'s UPN television network.
Other companies that voiced interest in the Muppets included Walt Disney Co., Entertainment Rights Plc, Classic Media LLC and U.S. investor Haim Saban, German newspapers reported.
Brian Henson and his siblings hope to re-establish Jim Henson Co. with the rights to Kermit and Miss Piggy. They "were and still are this company's core assets," he said.