Ireland’s two largest movie studios have been sold to an American joint venture, with extensive experience television and film production.
California-based property group Hackman Capital Partners (HCP), its studio operator affiliate, the MBS Group, and investment house Square Mile Capital Partners will take over Ardmore Studios, based in Wicklow and Troy Studios in Limerick.
The two studios are owned by Olcott Entertainment, led by Joe Devine, who previously co-founded private equity group Ion Equity. Former Ardmore chief executive Siún Ní Raghallaigh and accountant Ossie Kilkenny are also among those with a stake in the business.
No price has been disclosed for the deal but it is expected to be close to $100 million (€85 million). Both sites have seen significant investment in recent years.
Hackman has a strong focus on studio properties in its $7 billion portfolio, including 90 sound stages at the nine production studio campuses it owns, including some of the most iconic studios in the US.
The new owners say the partnership operates the world’s largest independent studio and media platform, which now includes approximately €3.6 billion in media real estate assets and exclusively services more than 360 sound stages in the MBS Group at 65 sites in 46 cities across four countries.
Media industry veteran Elaine Geraghty, who took over as chief executive of the two studios in 2020, will remain in situ as country head, alongside all current staff, and Ms Ní Raghallaigh, who has been acting as a consultant to the business in her role as a director.
Explosion of content
Jason Hariton, chief real estate officer at the MBS Group, confirmed the consortium had made the approach in Ireland.
“There’s been an explosion of content production like we have never seen,” he said. “Our mandate is to provide infrastructure in the world’s major production hubs and Ireland has certainly become one of them. So when the opportunity arose to buy the two largest studios in one fell swoop in Ireland, it was an impossible thing for us to pass up.”
Speaking exclusively to The Irish Times, he said the group was likely to examine further expansion at both sites. “There’s more demand even now for filming in Ireland than there is supply,” Mr Hariton said.
However, he said the structure of Ireland’s current section 481 tax relief meant the State was losing out on certain projects.
“The Irish production incentive is vital to the industry and it is a very strong incentive,” he said. “But the project cap [of €70 million] makes it difficult for Ireland to compete financially with the likes of the UK for super high budget projects.
“Ireland has all the pieces of the puzzle and the cap is a challenge to get to that next step. I think if the playing field was level, a lot of people would choose Ireland.”
Joe Devine, who is chairman of both studios and head of Olcott, said they had been approached by the consortium just as they completed a €30 million investment programme in the two sites.
”We realised that this could really transform the outlook not just for the two studios but for the wider industry in Ireland,” he said.
”We are delighted that a global leader like HCP will continue developing the studios. The industry is transforming before our eyes and HCP will ensure that Troy and Ardmore – and Ireland – can take full advantage of that transformation.”
Ardmore was previously owned by showbiz accountant Ossie Kilkenny and former U2 manager Paul McGuinness for close to 30 years.
Troy was established in the former Dell Studios in Limerick in 2016 by the then Ardmore chief Ms Ní Raghallaigh and Mr Kilkenny. Olcott was an early investor in the project.
In 2018, Olcott acquired Ardmore, which, as a production studio, dates back to 1958.
Troy spans 26 acres and has four sound stages totalling just over 100,000 sq ft. On completion of its latest expansion later this year, Ardmore Studios will have more than 140,000 sq ft of sound stages and 120,000 sq ft of support buildings on its Bray site.