Candle Media (“Candle”), the next-generation media company run by leading entertainment executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs and backed by investment capital from Blackstone, today announced a strategic minority investment in Westbrook Inc., the media company founded by Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Miguel Melendez and Ko Yada, focused on empowering artists to tell stories that connect the world. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
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Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs said: “We are thrilled to back Will and Jada and for the opportunity to work with Westbrook’s CEO Ko Yada and the rest of their incredibly talented team. They have established Westbrook as a home for world-class creators that is built for the digital age – which fully aligns with our company’s vision for the future of media. We are excited for what we can all achieve together with Blackstone in the years ahead.”
Joe Baratta, Global Head of Private Equity at Blackstone, and David Kestnbaum, a Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, said: “Will, Jada, and Westbrook have a deep firsthand understanding of today’s evolving entertainment content and social media environment – and how to create high-quality, engaging content that spans platforms, genres, and geographies. We look forward to helping accelerate the company’s growth as they continue to build a next-generation leader in global entertainment.”
Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith commented: “Westbrook is the realization of our dream to give artists from all backgrounds equal opportunities to pursue their creative visions and share their stories. We are pleased to join forces with Kevin, Tom and Blackstone to accelerate this mission by growing our content pipeline, our talent network, and our global expansion plans.”
Ko Yada, CEO of Westbrook Inc., said: “When we launched Westbrook just two and a half years ago, our mission was to empower artists to connect the world, and we do that through the independent infrastructure we’re building. 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. We look forward to this new relationship, building out more infrastructure, and working with more artists to help tell stories that connect.”
Westbrook was formed to execute the Smith Family’s vision to improve as many lives as possible through storytelling. Their parent company, Westbrook Inc., furthers that mission by providing strategic, financial, legal, and operational support to its studio and media companies and developing new business opportunities for revenue growth and diversification. Westbrook houses Westbrook Studios, the premium film and television studio; Westbrook Media, an integrated IP incubator, brand content studio, and production company; Red Table Talk Productions, maker of the Emmy Award-winning Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk and Red Table Talk: The Estefans; and Good Goods, a direct-to-consumer business which creates unique consumer products around the company’s IP and talent partners. By leveraging the Smith Family’s deep experience in entertainment and media, Westbrook curates and produces content – from short and mid-form digital to traditional television and motion pictures – for all major platforms.
In just over two years, Westbrook has created a diverse and robust slate of content including feature films, scripted and unscripted television, animated series, digital series and more. On the Westbrook Studios side, projects include the critically acclaimed film KING RICHARD, based on the life of Richard Williams, father to tennis greats Serena and Venus, the six-part docuseries on Netflix, Amend: The Fight For America, which uses a groundbreaking narrative format to explore the Fourteenth Amendment through the lens of American history, posing the question, what does “united states'' really mean, season 4 of the six-time Emmy nominated and SAG Award nominated series Cobra Kai, and Welcome to Earth with National Geographic which premiered on Disney+. Westbrook Media has produced and released projects with partners including Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and HBO Max including Snapchat’s most popular series ever - Will Smith’s Will From Home which garnered 43M+ viewers, as well as Will From Home Season 2, Ryan Doesn’t Know starring Ryan Reynolds, Jaden Smith’s social justice series The Solution Committee, Charli Vs. Dixie with social media sensations, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, the YouTube series Best Shape of My Life with Will Smith as well as Alicia Keys docu-series, Noted, along with Hulu’s photography competition series Exposure, and the HBO Max hit Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion.
In addition to the projects that have already been released, upcoming high profile projects include the film EMANCIPATION, which sold to Apple TV+ in the largest film festival acquisition deal in film history, the scripted television series Bel-Air, the dramatic reboot of Will Smith’s iconic The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air which landed a two season order from Peacock and premieres in February, a five year first-look deal with National Geographic to create adventure, exploration, travel and science content and upcoming Snapchat series Off Thee Leash with Megan Thee Stallion.
Other film projects in production and development include the drama REDD ZONE, starring Jada Pinkett Smith at Netflix and based on the true story of Tia Magee and her sons, the hip-hop musical feature SUMMERTIME based on Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s hit song for Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems, CLEAN AIR, a joint project from Westbrook, NASCAR and the Chainsmokers, action-thriller FAST & LOOSE starring Will Smith and directed by David Leitch, and THE SOUL SUPERHERO, a live action musical fantasy film with a screenplay that is co-written by Kwame Kwei-Armah and songwriter-producer, Freddy Wexler, and based on an original story by Wexler. Upcoming television series include This Joka, a 16-episode standup comedy series premiering on Roku in March 2022; a two-season order of the docu-scripted hybrid series African Queens coming soon to Netflix, and a one-hour variety special hosted by Will Smith.
Westbrook’s executive team includes Ko Yada, CEO, Tera Hanks, President, Gila Jones, COO, Kevin McDonald, CFO, Brad Haugen, President of Westbrook Media, Terence Carter, Co-President, Head of Television, Westbrook Studios, and Jon Mone, Co-President, Head of Film, Westbrook Studios. Westbrook was listed as one of Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in 2021.
The name of the Mayer-Staggs-Blackstone backed company, Candle, 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. By bringing together elite talent operating at the intersection of content, community, and commerce, Candle helps position leading entertainment businesses for accelerated, sustainable growth in the current market and beyond. The company has previously announced acquisitions Hello Sunshine, the mission-driven media company that puts women at the center of every story it creates, founded by Reese Witherspoon; and Moonbug Entertainment, the digital-first, global children’s entertainment company behind highly popular shows such as CoComelon, Blippi, Little Baby Bum, and many others. Blackstone’s investment in Candle has been made through funds affiliated with the firm’s flagship private equity business.
Launched in 2019 by founders Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Miguel Melendez, and Ko Yada, Westbrook is a media company that empowers artists to tell stories that connect the world. Westbrook houses Westbrook Studios, the premium film and television studio; Westbrook Media, a vertically-integrated IP incubator, brand content studio, and production company; Red Table Talk Productions, maker of the Emmy Award-winning Facebook Watch shows Red Table Talk and Red Table Talk: The Estefans; and Good Goods, which creates unique consumer products around the company’s IP and talent partners. By leveraging the Smith Family’s deep experience in entertainment and media, Westbrook curates and produces content – from short and mid-form digital to traditional television and motion pictures – for all major platforms.
Blackstone is the world’s largest alternative asset manager. We seek to create positive economic impact and long-term value for our investors, the companies we invest in, and the communities in which we work. We do this by using extraordinary people and flexible capital to help companies solve problems. Our $731 billion in assets under management include investment vehicles focused on private equity, real estate, public debt and equity, life sciences, growth equity, opportunistic, non-investment grade credit, real assets and secondary funds, all on a global basis. Further information is available at www.blackstone.com. Follow Blackstone on Twitter @Blackstone.