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HIT Entertainment Ltd.
Formerly called
Henson International Television (1982–89)
Industry Entertainment
Genre Children's programmes
Founded 1982; 36 years ago (1982)
Founder Jim Henson
Peter Orton
Number of locations
Key people
Peter Orton
Production output
Television Production, Children's Animation, Production
Services Distribution
Owner Mattel, Inc.
Number of employees
Parent Mattel Creations
  • HiT Video
  • Consumers Product[1]
  • Hit ToyCo[2]
  • HiT Movies
  • HIT Entertainment USA Inc.
  • Ludgate 151 Ltd.
  • Hot Animation
  • Entermode Ltd.[1]
  • HIT Entertainment Canada Inc.[3]
  • Pingu BV

HIT Entertainment Ltd. (styled "HiT") is a British–American entertainment company owned by Mattel and originally established in 1982 as Henson International Television (formerly styled "hit!"). It was founded as the international distribution arm of Jim Henson Productions. HIT owns and distributes children's television series such as Barney & Friends, Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam, and Angelina Ballerina.[4]


Henson International Television[edit]

Henson International Television was founded in 1982, by Jim Henson and Peter Orton as a distribution company for their children's, teens and family television.[5] Orton had met Henson when he was at the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) handling Sesame Street distribution. So Henson hired Orton in 1981 to set up the company.[6]

HiT Entertainment[edit]

Jim Henson Productions started negotiations with The Walt Disney Company regarding a possible purchase of the company in the late 1980s. Because of these negotiations, Henson International Television head Orton led a management buyout of the Henson International Television division from Henson in 1989, forming a new company named HiT Entertainment.[1]

HiT continued distributing programming by initially signing Postman Pat and Alvin & the Chipmunks series. The company then financed and distributed Wind in the Willows and the Peter Rabbit animated features. In 1990, Flextech took a 23% share in HiT for about £600,000. The HiT Wildlife division was soon set up to produce nature and wildlife programming which provided the company with 35% of its revenue by the mid-1990s.[1]

HiT also handled international distribution for Lyrick Studios' Barney & Friends. With the success of Barney, HiT began to develop its own programming for the pre-school market. By 1996, HiT was listed on the AIM to raise funding to develop these programs. HiT used the funding to launch HiT Video that produced direct to video programming in the UK only. Bob the Builder was one such character that HiT purchased its TV series rights.[1]

With another offering in 1997, HiT increased its capitalization and move to the primary London Stock Exchange. HIT used this funding to develop Brambly Hedge, Percy the Park Keeper, and Kipper, which became its first hit on ITV.[1]

In 1998, HIT formed its own animation production company, HOT Animation, Katherine Yung and Julie Hinds, and its Consumers Product Division. Also, BBC signed on as the broadcaster for Bob the Builder. HiT signed a series of USA broadcasting deal starting with Nickelodeon for Kipper and expanded to Starz/Encore (Brambly Hedge and Percy the Park Keeper series), HBO Family (Anthony Ant cartoon series) and Animal Planet channel (Wylands Ocean World wildlife program). Kipper also won the 1998 BAFTA award for Best Children's Animation. To end the year, HIT offered another group of shares.[1]

HIT opened 1999 with 10 first run TV series in the USA and started its consumer products USA subsidiary. In April, Bob the Builder debuted on the BBC as a hit. In July, the company made another public offering of stock. A USA deal for Bob was signed in December with Nickelodeon to start airing in January 2001. Mattel signed a five-year licensing agreement for its development Angelina Ballerina series.[1]

In January 2000, the company split its share five-for-one. HiT which has been looking for an acquisition for a while began talks with Thomas the Tank Engine owner, Britt Allcroft early that year, but fell apart as they could not agree on a price. Bob the Builder continued its success with the number one record in December.[1]

HiT acquired Lyrick Studios in February 2001 while selling Lyrick's money losing publishing operations and extending its Barney-PBS deal. In May, the first Bob the Builder video was released in the USA while the company signed a deal with Sears to have "Bob Shops" in the retail's stores. With the Henson Company's owner EM.TV in financial trouble over its purchase of 50% share in Formula One racing rights, HiT joined a number of companies willing to purchase Henson.[1] In October 2001, HiT's bid for Pingu BV was accepted.[7]

In April 2002, HIT Entertainment sold their HIT Wildlife division to the newly formed Parthenon Entertainment, which was owned by the former managing director of Hit Wildlife, Carl Hall. 30 hours of programming in production and its 300-hour library was transferred over in the Management buyout agreement.[8]

After two years of bids from HiT, Gullane Entertainment's board agreed to be purchased by HiT in 2002 when no white knight could be found.[9] In August 2002, HIT Entertainment Canada, Inc. official opened its office in Toronto.[3]

In March 2003, CCI Entertainment acquired HiT's stake in CCI (part of the Gullane Purchase) and Gullane library rights in Canada.[10]

On April 1, 2004, the company and The Jim Henson Company agreed to a five-year global distribution and production deal which included distribution of 440 hours of the Henson Company's remaining library include Fraggle Rock, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Hoobs puppets and the Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories.[11] While firing its chief executive Rob Lawes in October 2004, the company announced its launching of PBS Kids Sprout with partners PBS, Comcast and Sesame Workshop.[12]

Private corporation (2005–2012)[edit]

In 2005, Apax Partners took HiT private purchasing the company for £489.4 million[13] with former BBC director general Greg Dyke becoming chairman.[2]

In 2006, HiT closed its DVD sales and distribution arm in the US and contracted with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for DVD distribution.[2] HiT continues to sell and distribute its own DVD releasing output in the UK.

In September 2007, the corporation and Chellomedia formed a join venture to run JimJam children's channel.[14]

In 2008, HiT hired Jeff Dunn, formerly of Nickelodeon, as chief executive and moved DVD distribution to Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Dunn move the company to create new characters, including Mike the Knight, and revitalise existing brands.[2] In February, HiT sold Guinness World Records brand, acquired with Gullane, to Ripley Entertainment.[15] They also sold the rights to the Sooty characters and properties to his current presenter, Richard Cadell after HiT put the rights to Sooty up for sale in October 2007.

In March 2009, HiT Entertainment started its HiT Movies division based in Los Angeles with Julia Pistor as division head to create movies based on the company's franchises.[16] First planned movie adaptation was for live action Thomas & Friends in late 2010.[17]

In early 2010, HiT licensed Thomas & Friends to Mattel for toys.[18] By August, the company withdrew from the JimJam joint venture but would continue providing programming.[19]

In April 2011, Apax put HiT up for sale with option to sell the company in two parts Thomas & Friends franchise and the other HiT characters with its Kids Sprout stake with either parts or separately. Expected bidders were Disney, Viacom, Mattel, Hasbro, Classic Media (now known as DreamWorks Classics), Chorion and Saban Brands.[13] By April 2011, Fireman Sam was revitalised enough to be a Top 10 UK best-selling character toy according to NPD Group.[2]

Mattel subsidiary (2012–present)[edit]

Apax Partners group agreed to sell HiT Entertainment to Mattel in October 2011 for $680 million. Its share of Sprout was not included in the deal.[18][20] The sale/merger was completed on February 1, 2012, and HIT Entertainment became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel,[21] managed under its Fisher-Price unit.[22] Their next programme Mike the Knight aired on CBeebies later in the year.[2]

HiT announced a DVD distribution deal with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on May 2, 2014.[23] In early summer 2015, Edaville USA amusement park opened a licensed Thomas Land theme area based on Thomas & Friends.[22] On October 6, 2015, HiT Entertainment announced a long-term partnership with 9 Story Media Group to relaunch Barney & Friends and Angelina Ballerina.[24] In March 2016, HiT was transferred to Mattel Creations, a division of Mattel created to bring all content creation units together under Mattel’s Chief Content Officer Catherine Balsam-Schwaber.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "HIT Entertainment PLC History". Company Profiles. Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Garside, Juliette (April 17, 2011). "How to get Hit Entertainment back on track?". Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Godfrey, Leigh (August 22, 2002). "HIT Entertainment Canada Opens Its Doors". AWN. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  4. ^ "Our Brands". Corporate. HiT Entertainment. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "Peter Orton: Media entrepreneur who made a global success of Bob the Builder". The Independent. 12 December 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  6. ^ Forrest, Simon (12 December 2007). "Obituary: Peter Orton". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  7. ^ "Pingu sold for £16m". Business. BBC News. 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  8. ^ Winstone, Keely (29 April 2002). "Ex-Hit Wildlife man firms up Parthenon". C21media. Retrieved December 23, 2016. 
  9. ^ Cassy, John (6 July 2002). "Gullane gives in to Barney bid". Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "CCI takes Gullane titles back from Hit". May 26, 2003. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  11. ^ Rossingh, Danielle (April 2, 2004). "HIT seals deal for Henson catalogue". Telegraph. Retrieved March 12, 2014. 
  12. ^ Martinson, Jane (21 October 2004). "HIT fires chief who pulled off US deal". Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Garside, Juliette (13 April 2011). "Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder may part company in HIT sale". Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Chala, Jean K. (February 28, 2009). Transnational Television in Europe: Reconfiguring Global Communications Networks. I.B.Tauris. pp. 123–124. 
  15. ^ Allen, Katie (14 February 2008). "Guinness world records brand sold to Ripley's for £60m". Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Afan, Emily Claire (March 4, 2009). "HIT goes to the movies with newly formed film division". Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Hayes, Dade (4 March 2009). "Hit Entertainment gets into movie biz". Variety. Retrieved February 23, 2017. 
  18. ^ a b Kell, John (October 25, 2011). "Mattel to Buy HIT Entertainment". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "Hit pulls out of JimJam JV". Digital TV Europe. TBIvision. October 22, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Barbie maker Mattel to buy Thomas the Tank Engine owner". BBC News. 24 October 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2011. 
  21. ^ Szalai, Georg (January 31, 2012). "Mattel's Acquisition of 'Thomas & Friends' Maker HIT Entertainment to Close on Wednesday". Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "HIT Lays Tracks for Thomas Land". License! Global Magazine. UBM. June 17, 2014. Retrieved June 6, 2016. 
  23. ^ McLean, Thomas J. (May 2, 2014). "HIT Taps Universal for Home Entertainment Distribution". Animation Magazine. Retrieved May 7, 2014. 
  24. ^ Vlessing, Etan (October 6, 2015). "MIPCOM: 'Barney & Friends' Set for Relaunch by Mattel, 9 Story". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2017. 
  25. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (March 31, 2016). "Mattel Creations Formed To Centralize Toy Giant's Theatrical, TV & Digital Content". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved June 6, 2016. 

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