The deal, confirmed to Deadline by a person familiar with the investment and later announced officially, followed discussions of a full acquisition of the company led by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Westbrook has had a hand in film and TV productions like King Richard, released last year by Warner Bros, as well as Facebook talk show Red Table Talk and a number of widely seen titles on Snapchat and other digital platforms. Upcoming projects include Bel-Air, a revamp of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set to stream on Peacock, and Emancipation, a dramatic action film starring Will Smith that will be distributed by Apple TV+.
Financial terms were not disclosed. It has been a seller’s market for anyone in the content business, with deals last year for MGM and a host of smaller players whipping up interest in dozens of other candidates.
The stake is the latest in a series of aggressive moves by Candle Media, the new firm launched last year by Mayer and Staggs. The company closed 2021 with the acquisition of Fauda producer Faraway Road, after earlier acquiring Moonbug Entertainment, which makes popular preschool shows like CoComelon, as well as Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. The Moonbug deal was valued at $3 billion and Hello Sunshine at $900 million.
The Smiths launched Westbrook in 2019, along with Miguel Melendez and Ko Yada. The reconstituted company encompassed Overbrook Entertainment, the production outfit named after a neighborhood in Will Smith’s native Philadelphia. Smith and James Lassiter founded Overbrook in 1998. Film blockbusters like I Am Legend, Hitch and Hancock were the original mainstays of Overbrook, but it went on to add TV projects like the Karate Kid reboot Cobra Kai, a popular title on Netflix.
In a joint statement, Mayer and Staggs called Westbrook “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 the company’s principals 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.”
The Smiths called Westbrook “the realization of our dream to give artists from all backgrounds equal opportunities to pursue their creative visions and share their stories.”
The Information and The Wall Street Journal had the first reports of the Blackstone-backed investment in Westbrook.