Kevin Mayer & Tom Staggs’ Candle Media buys into Will Smith’s Westbrook Studios

Red Table Talk

Candle Media, the private equity-backed investment firm launched by former Disney execs Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, has taken a minority stake in Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios.

The deal follows reports last year that Mayer and Staggs’ Blackstone Group-backed firm was looking to buy into the prodco, which was founded in 2019 and is behind Netflix’s docuseries Amend: The Fight For America, Snapchat show Will Smith’s Will From Home and Apple TV+ film Emancipation.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith said the investment would help to expand “our content pipeline, our talent network and our global expansion plans.”

Westbrook Studios is headed by CEO Ko Yada and has grown rapidly since launch, inking a five-year first-look unscripted deal with Disney-backed National Geographic last year and securing commissions from Netflix for a docudrama about African queens, with Jane Root’s Nutopia also attached.

Kevin Mayer

The Smith-helmed prodco is also behind Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk and the fourth season of Netflix’s martial arts drama Cobra Kai. Its executive team includes president Tera Hanks; COO Gila Jones; and head of TV, Terence Carter.

Private equity expansion

The investment signals the ongoing battle to acquire premium production assets, with private equity firms in particular seeking to forge deeper ties with content creators, a trend that has been growing for several years.

Candle Media bought Reese Witherspoon’s Big Little Lies producer Hello Sunshine in August in a deal valued at $900m, before forking out $3bn for CoComelon outfit Moonbug.

Late last year, it was heavily linked with Fauda producer Faraway Productions while reports have also linked it with Ben Silverman’s Propagate Content.

Mayer and Staggs said Westbrook had been “built for the digital age, which fully aligns with our company’s vision for the future of media.”

Westbrook’s Yada added: “We started with a focus on premium content across all platforms in a way that would bring creators, artists, brands, and global audiences together. As we look to the next phase of the company, Kevin, Tom and Blackstone are ideal strategic partners.”

Blackstone said its investment in Candle had been made through funds from its main private equity business. Candle Media, meanwhile, “reflects the light of creativity at the heart of its model as an independent, creator-friendly home for cutting-edge, high-quality, category-defining brands and franchises,” the company said.

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