HIT Entertainment

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HIT Entertainment Limited
  • Henson International Television (1982–1989)[1]
  • Gainbase PLC (1989)
  • HIT Communications PLC (1989–1992)
  • HIT Entertainment PLC (1992–2005)[2]
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustryTelevision production
Children's programming
PredecessorsGullane Entertainment
Lyrick Studios
Founded1982; 42 years ago (1982)
Defunct31 March 2016; 8 years ago (2016-03-31)
FateAbsorbed into Mattel Creations (now Mattel Television), name currently used for licensing purposes only
SuccessorMattel Television
Number of locations
Key people
Peter Orton
OwnerApax Partners (2005–2012)
Number of employees
  • HIT Video
  • HIT Consumer Products
  • HIT Toy Company
  • HIT Movies
  • HIT Entertainment USA Inc.
  • Ludgate 151 Ltd.
  • Entermode Ltd.[3]
  • HIT Entertainment Canada Inc.[4]

HIT Entertainment Limited (stylised as HiT) was a British-American entertainment company founded in 1982 as Henson International Television, the international distribution arm of The Jim Henson Company, by Jim Henson, Peter Orton, and Sophie Turner Laing. Orton alone took over the company in 1989 after learning Henson intended to sell the company to The Walt Disney Company. HIT owned and distributed children's television series such as Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder, Pingu, Barney & Friends, and Angelina Ballerina.[5]

HIT Entertainment was one of several partner companies alongside NBCUniversal, PBS, and Sesame Workshop that founded PBS Kids Sprout; many of HIT's shows aired on the channel as a result at the time.

On 1 February 2012, HIT Entertainment was acquired by Mattel, as Mattel was initially only interested in the Thomas & Friends brand in its acquisition, according to Deadline Hollywood.[6] Mattel absorbed the company on 31 March 2016 into its then newly created division, Mattel Creations.[7]


1982–1990: Early History as Henson Associates subsidiary

Founded in 1982, this logo was first used in The Muppet Show in 1983. The name would be stylized as "hit!".

Peter Orton had met Jim Henson when he was at the Children's Television Workshop handling distribution of Sesame Street. As a result, he became close friends with Henson and went to work with him in 1981.[8] Together they set up Henson International Television, which was the international distribution arm of Jim Henson Productions the following year, with Orton becoming the company's CEO.[1]

1989–1999: Becoming independent

In 1989, Jim Henson Productions spun off Henson International Television and changed its name to HIT Communications PLC.

Beginning in the late-1980s, Jim Henson Productions began negotiations with The Walt Disney Company regarding a possible purchase of a merger. Upon hearing these talks, Orton and other employees at HIT! convinced Henson to allow them to spin off the distribution arm as an independent distribution company. Following Henson's approval, in October 1989, Orton led management buyout of Henson International Television and re-incorporated the subsidiary as a standalone company named HIT Communications PLC.[3][9]

Under its new name, HIT no longer held distribution rights to Henson's catalogue, and instead began acquiring other programs for international distribution, including Woodland Animations' Postman Pat and Bagdasarian Productions' Alvin and the Chipmunks, and later international acquisitions like Lyrick Studios' Barney & Friends.

Beginning in 1991, HIT would begin to engage in co-producing shows which they would distribute internationally, with the first two as part of this new strategy being Where's Wally? and Captain Zed and the Zee Zone. The company then began to finance and distribute animated feature films based on The Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit books. Helping to fund the company was an investment by British satellite and cable television operator Flextech took a 23% share in HIT for about £600,000.

The HIT Wildlife division was created to produce nature and wildlife programming which provided the company with 35% of its revenue by the mid-1990s.[3]

With the success of Barney, HIT began to develop its own programming. In 1996, HIT was listed on the AIM to raise funding; it used the funding to launch HIT Video, which would produce direct-to-video programming in the UK.

A new character came to the company's attention in 1996, when advertising executive and would-be cartoonist Keith Chapman pitched his idea to HIT Entertainment. Chapman's character was a general contractor named Bob the Builder. While a number of other producers had turned down the idea, HIT recognized its potential and bought the rights to developing the Bob the Builder character into a television series. The deal saw Chapman retain a share of the copyright and also a contractual clause which sees his name appear on all media & merchandise related to the character. [3]

With another offering in 1997, HIT increased its capitalization and move to the primary London Stock Exchange, whose funding HIT would use to develop some of its first original series including Brambly Hedge, Percy the Park Keeper, and Kipper, which became its first hit on ITV.[3]

In 1998, HIT formed its own animation production company, HOT Animation, and its Consumers Product Division. The BBC agreed to broadcast Bob the Builder. HIT signed a series of American broadcasting deals starting with Nickelodeon for Kipper expanding to Starz/Encore for the Brambly Hedge and Percy the Park Keeper television series; HBO Family for the Anthony Ant cartoon series, and Animal Planet for the Wylands Ocean World wildlife program. Kipper won the 1998 BAFTA Award for Best Children's Animation. At the end of the year, HIT offered another group of shares.[3]

In 1999, HIT had 10 first-run television series in the United States and started an American subsidiary. In April, Bob the Builder successfully debuted on the BBC; in July the company made another public offering of stock. An American deal for Bob the Builder was signed in December with Nickelodeon to start airing in January 2001. Mattel signed a five-year licensing agreement for the development of the Angelina Ballerina television series.[3]

2000–2004: Bob the Builder to final independent years

HIT, which had long been suggesting that it intended to expand its character stable through acquisitions, nearly found a partner in early 2000 when the company held talks with Britt Allcroft, the British company which held the licenses to such popular characters as Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain Pugwash, and Sooty. The two sides were unable to agree on a price, however, and the merger fell through.[3] Bob the Builder continued its success with the number one record in December that year.[3]

In December 2000, HIT's US division entered into a home video partnership with Lyrick Studios, home and owner of Barney & Friends, for distribution of Bob the Builder and Kipper releases.[10] This early partnership was an early plan for that led to HIT purchasing Lyrick for $275 million,[11] which would in turn give HIT a marketing and distribution network that it used to introduce its properties to U.S. audiences. Vice versa, the deal would help expand Barney's international presence, which was what Lyrick needed at the time.[12] The chief executive of HIT, Rob Lawes, was the driving force of the acquisition.[13] The Lyrick acquisition encouraged HIT Entertainment to pursue new acquisitions.

In May 2001, the first Bob the Builder VHS volumes were released in the United States by HIT/Lyrick, while the company signed a deal with Sears to have Bob Shops in their retail stores. The Jim Henson Company's owner EM.TV was in financial trouble over its purchase of 50% share in Formula One racing rights, and HIT joined a number of companies willing to purchase TJHC.[3] In October 2001, HIT's bid for Pingu BV was accepted.[14]

In April 2002, HIT Entertainment sold its wildlife division to the newly formed Parthenon Entertainment, which was owned by the former managing director of HIT Wildlife, Carlos "Carl" Hall, with its 30 hours of programming in production and its 300-hour library was transferred in the management buyout agreement.[15]

The board of Gullane Entertainment agreed to have the company be purchased by HIT for £139 million.[16] The television shows owned by Gullane included Thomas & Friends, Magic Adventures of Mumfie, and Fireman Sam, which a stake of was purchased from S4C months before. On 22 August 2002, HIT Entertainment officially opened its Canadian office in Toronto.[4]

In March 2003, CCI Entertainment, the Canadian affiliate of Gullane who owned a minority stake in CCI's shares prior to the HIT purchase, announced they had ended their partnership with HIT and re-acquired their shares in the company, including all of their programming libraries, which made out half of Gullane's catalogue. The shows CCI reacquired were put into the company's CCI Releasing subsidiary.[17] HIT's next television series Rubbadubbers aired in September of the same year.

On 1 April 2004, HIT and The Jim Henson Company agreed to a five-year global distribution and production deal which included distribution of 440 hours of TJHC's remaining library, including Fraggle Rock, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Hoobs, and Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories. In addition, the agreement also included the production of new properties, including Frances, in which both companies co-produced. Both companies co-owned the copyright to the series.[18] While firing its chief executive Rob Lawes in October 2004, the company announced its launching of a 24-hour preschool channel known as PBS Kids Sprout with PBS, Comcast, and Sesame Workshop.[19]

2005–2011: Apax Partners ownership

On 22 March 2005, Apax Partners purchased HIT for £489.4 million,[20] taking it private,[21] with former BBC director general Greg Dyke becoming chairman.[22][23] On 26 August 2005, HIT announced an agreement with NBCUniversal, PBS, and Sesame Workshop to launch the world's first 24-hour preschool television channel entitled PBS Kids Sprout, with HIT supplying programming for the channel as a result at the time.

In 2006, HIT closed its DVD sales and distribution arm in the U.S. and contracted with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for DVD distribution.[22] Soon the distribution deal ended and was transferred to Lionsgate Home Entertainment who distributed HIT's videos from May 2008 to 2014.[22][24] HIT continued to sell and distribute its own DVD output in the UK.[citation needed]

On 22 March 2007, S4C announced that they had sold their 50% stake in the Fireman Sam property to HIT, taking full ownership in the franchise. S4C would remain an executive producer for upcoming seasons and retain all Welsh-language rights to the property.[25] In September, the company and Chellomedia formed a joint venture to run the JimJam children's channel.[26] HIT Entertainment opened its own toy company, the HIT Toy Company.

In October 2007, after failing to supply ITV a new series of Sooty the previous year, HIT announced they had put the Sooty Limited/Bridgefilms venture up for sale, consisting of both Sooty and Magic Adventures of Mumfie, an earlier Britt Allcroft creation.[27] Allcroft herself would re-acquire Mumfie in March 2008,[28] while Richard Cadell would purchase the Sooty franchise and brand in June 2008.[29]

In 2008, HIT hired former Nickelodeon executive, Jeffrey D. Dunn, as chief executive and moved DVD distribution from 20th Century Fox to Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Dunn drove the company to create new characters, including Mike the Knight, and to revitalize existing brands.[22] In February, HIT sold the Guinness World Records brand, acquired through HIT's acquisition of Gullane Entertainment to Ripley Entertainment.[30]

HIT Movies
Company typeDivision
IndustryFilm production
FoundedMarch 2009; 15 years ago (2009-03)
FounderJulia Pistor
Defunct2010; 14 years ago (2010)
SuccessorMattel Films
OwnerHIT Entertainment
ParentHIT Entertainment

In March 2009, HIT Entertainment started its HIT Movies division in Los Angeles with Julia Pistor as division head, to create films based on the company's franchises.[31] The division's first planned film adaptation was a live-action Thomas & Friends film, scheduled for late 2010.[32]

In early 2010, HIT licensed Thomas & Friends to Mattel for toys.[33] By August, the company withdrew from the JimJam joint venture, but agreed to continue providing programming for the channel until the absorption into Mattel.[34]

In April 2011, Apax put HIT up for sale, with the option to sell the company in two parts: Thomas & Friends franchise and the other HIT characters with its PBS Kids Sprout stake, with either parts or separately. Several bidders came forward, including The Walt Disney Company, Viacom, Mattel, Hasbro, Classic Media, Chorion, and Saban Brands.[21] By April 2011, Fireman Sam was a Top 10 UK best-selling character toy according to NPD Group.[22] Their next program Mike the Knight, a co-production between Nelvana aired on Treehouse TV and CBeebies later in the year.[22]

2012–2016: Mattel subsidiary

Apax Partners agreed to sell HIT Entertainment to Mattel on 24 October 2011 for $680 million[35][36] excluding its share of the PBS Kids Sprout television channel.[33][37] The sale/merger was completed on 1 February 2012, and HIT Entertainment became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel,[38] which was managed under its Fisher-Price unit.[39][40] Due to the success of the Thomas & Friends brand, which accounted for 80% of HIT's revenues, there was talks of Mattel only wanting to purchase that franchise rather than the entire HIT library.[6] Mattel had already worked alongside HIT Entertainment and handled marketing for Thomas & Friends toys.[41] On 3 July 2012, it was reported that Mattel considered selling and sought a buyer for Barney and Angelina Ballerina, but they eventually kept them.[42]

HIT announced a DVD distribution deal with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on 2 May 2014.[43] in which Universal began distributing their catalogue for Blu-ray and DVD electronic sell-through and VOD platforms in the United States and Canada. In early summer 2015, the Edaville USA amusement park in South Carver, Massachusetts opened a licensed Thomas Land theme area based on Thomas & Friends.[39] On 6 October 2015, HIT Entertainment announced a long-term partnership with 9 Story Media Group to relaunch Barney & Friends and Angelina Ballerina.[44][45]

On 31 March 2016, HIT was absorbed into a newly created division called Mattel Creations.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Peter Orton: Media entrepreneur who made a global success of Bob the Builder". The Independent. 12 December 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. ^ "HIT Entertainment PLC - Overview". Companies House. UK Government. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "HIT Entertainment PLC History". Company Profiles. Funding Universe. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b Godfrey, Leigh (22 August 2002). "HIT Entertainment Canada Opens Its Doors". Animation World Network. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Our Brands". HiT Entertainment. Archived from the original on 15 August 2002. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  6. ^ a b Adler, Tim (24 October 2011). "Mattel Buys A $680M Ticket for Thomas the Tank Engine with HIT Entertainment Deal". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  7. ^ a b Tartaglione, Nancy (31 March 2016). "Mattel Creations Formed To Centralize Toy Giant's Theatrical, TV & Digital Content". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  8. ^ Forrest, Simon (12 December 2007). "Obituary: Peter Orton". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  9. ^ "HIT Entertainment's Peter Orton dies". 20 December 2007.
  10. ^ "Investegate |HIT Entertainment Announcements | HIT Entertainment: Acquisition".
  11. ^ "HIT Entertainment Buys Barney". Associated Press. 9 February 2001. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  12. ^ "They're Not Just Playing Around". Los Angeles Times. 9 August 2002.
  13. ^ "HIT Entertainment Announcements — HIT Entertainment: Acquisition". Investegate.
  14. ^ "Pingu sold for £16m". BBC News. 29 October 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2007.
  15. ^ Winstone, Keely (29 April 2002). "Ex-Hit Wildlife man firms up Parthenon". C21media. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  16. ^ Cassy, John (6 July 2002). "Gullane gives in to Barney bid". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  17. ^ "CCI takes Gullane titles back from Hit". C21media.net. 26 May 2003. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  18. ^ "The Jim Henson Company and HIT Entertainment Establish Worldwide Distribution And Production Venture" (PDF) (Press release). The Jim Henson Company. 1 April 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  19. ^ Martinson, Jane (21 October 2004). "HIT fires chief who pulled off US deal". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  20. ^ "Apax to Buy HIT Entertainment for $934 Million". Animation World Network. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  21. ^ a b Garside, Juliette (13 April 2011). "Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder may part company in HIT sale". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Garside, Juliette (April 18, 2011). "How to get Hit Entertainment back on track?". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  23. ^ "Apax to buy HIT Entertainment". The New York Times. 22 March 2005.
  24. ^ "Lionsgate joins the HIT parade". The Hollywood Reporter. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  25. ^ "S4C announces sale of Fireman Sam to HIT Entertainment".
  26. ^ Chala, Jean K. (28 February 2009). Transnational Television in Europe: Reconfiguring Global Communications Networks. I.B.Tauris. pp. 123–124. ISBN 9780857717474 – via Google Books.
  27. ^ "Hit Entertainment has put the rights to kids' TV puppet Sooty up for sale". The Guardian. 4 October 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  28. ^ Bates, Jim (2008-03-19). "Children's Television Pioneer Britt Allcroft Reacquires Mumfie - "Special Little Elephant with a Great Big Heart" Returning Home". Businesswire.com. Archived from the original on 2020-07-16. Retrieved 2021-04-05.
  29. ^ Langsworthy, Billy (January 14, 2014). "Richard Cadell on saving Sooty, brand longevity and stage shows". NewBay Media. Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  30. ^ Allen, Katie (14 February 2008). "Guinness world records brand sold to Ripley's for £60m". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  31. ^ Afan, Emily Claire (4 March 2009). "HIT goes to the movies with newly formed film division". Kidscreen. Brunico Communications. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  32. ^ Hayes, Dade (4 March 2009). "Hit Entertainment gets into movie biz". Variety. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  33. ^ a b Kell, John (October 25, 2011). "Mattel to Buy HIT Entertainment". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  34. ^ "Hit pulls out of JimJam JV". Digital TV Europe. TBIvision. 22 October 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  35. ^ "Mattel Announces Acquisition of HIT Entertainment". Hit Entertainment (Press release). Mattel Corporate. 24 October 2011. Archived from the original on 25 December 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  36. ^ "Mattel buys Hit Entertainment for $680m cash". The Guardian. 24 October 2011.
  37. ^ "Barbie maker Mattel to buy Thomas the Tank Engine owner". BBC News. 24 October 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011.
  38. ^ Szalai, George (31 January 2012). "Mattel's Acquisition of 'Thomas & Friends' Maker HIT Entertainment to Close on Wednesday". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  39. ^ a b "HIT Lays Tracks for Thomas Land". License! Global Magazine. UBM (now Informa). 17 June 2014. Archived from the original on 6 August 2016. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  40. ^ "Mattel Completes Acquisition of HIT Entertainment" (Press release). Mattel. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  41. ^ "Mattel acquires Thomas & Friends owner". Marketing Week. 24 October 2011.
  42. ^ Rushton, Katherine (3 July 2012). "Mattel sounds out buyers for Hit Entertainment's Barney and Angelina Ballerina". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 3 July 2012.
  43. ^ McLean, Thomas J. (2 May 2014). "HIT Taps Universal for Home Entertainment Distribution". Animation Magazine. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  44. ^ Vlessing, Etan (6 October 2015). "MIPCOM: 'Barney & Friends' Set for Relaunch by Mattel, 9 Story". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  45. ^ "Mattel Inc Together with 9 Story Announce New Partnership to Relaunch Iconic Pre-School Brands 'Barney & Friends' and 'Angelina Ballerina'". 6 October 2015. Retrieved 1 July 2020.

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