- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

From combined dispatchesKermit is coming home.German media company EM.TV said yesterday it was selling the Muppets’ creator, the Jim Henson Co., back to the Henson family for a fraction of what it paid at the height of the technology boom.The Munich company bought the business and rights to the Muppets in February 2000 for $680 million in cash and stock.In May 2001, it said it was considering selling the Los Angeles company. It has since sold some Henson assets for about $200 million.Yesterday, EM.TV said it was selling the rest of Henson for $78 million in cash and was keeping the $11 million that the Henson operation had on hand.The acquisition will return the rights to Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and scores of other Muppets to the children of puppeteer Jim Henson. Another Henson creation — the “Sesame Street” characters Elmo and Big Bird — already have been sold and aren’t among the assets his children are buying back.EM.TV said the sale would allow it to finish paying back a loan of $286 million that financed the acquisition of its stake in Junior TV, a joint venture with Germany’s KirchMedia.”It wasn’t a sale for strategic reasons,” EM.TV spokesman Frank Elsner said. “The main point was always to secure the liquidity of the company.”Mr. Henson founded his company in 1958, inventing the term “Muppet” as a cross between the words marionette and puppet. He died in 1990.The buyers include Jim Henson’s son, Brian, and Brian’s brother, John, and his sisters Lisa, Cheryl and Heather. Miss Piggy and Kermit are as recognizable as Mickey Mouse, Brian Henson said.The assets being sold include the Muppets, the Muppet Babies, the Fraggles, the Hoobs, Farscape and Bear in the Big Blue House, Brian Henson, 39, said in a statement.”We have to be able to grow that as a business again,” he said.The sale agreement requires approval by EM.TV shareholders. EM.TV’s annual general meeting is scheduled for July 20.EM.TV was founded in 1989 and became a star of Germany’s tech-heavy Neuer Markt stock market. But moves such as buying the Jim Henson Co. and half of Formula One motor racing left it deeply in debt. EM.TV already has disposed of its Formula One holdings.The Henson children’s “was, in the end the most attractive offer,” Mr. Elsner said.He declined to name other bidders or to specify whether the Henson family submitted the highest bid. Among those reportedly interested was the Walt Disney Co.EM.TV recently held talks with a U.S. investor group led by former UPN President Dean Valentine on the sale of a 49.9 percent stake in the Jim Henson Co. It planned to put Mr. Valentine in charge of operations there while maintaining its own presence in the United States.In March, however, it canceled a letter of intent to sell the minority share to Mr. Valentine’s consortium, saying it would continue negotiating with the group and other potential buyers.”We always said both solutions were possible,” Mr. Elsner said of EM.TV’s decision to relinquish the entire company. “There were always several people interested.”Asset sales since EM.TV bought the Jim Henson Co. — including the sale of “Sesame Street” rights — brought in about $200 million, Mr. Elsner said.

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