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Sonar Entertainment, Inc., formerly known as RHI Entertainment, Hallmark Entertainment, Qintex Entertainment, HRI Group and Robert Halmi Inc., is an American entertainment company specializing in television miniseries and movies and owned by Catalyst Capital Group. The company was founded in 1979 by Robert Halmi Jr. and Robert Halmi Sr. (1924–2014) as Robert Halmi, Inc. The company uses the direct-to-series model for TV series.
|Founder||Robert Halmi, Sr.|
|Fate||Assets acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul|
Number of locations
|Parent||Catalyst Capital Group|
Robert Halmi Inc. was founded in 1979. In June 1985, the Hal Roach Studios purchased a 20% share of Robert Halmi, Inc. (RHI) in exchange for Robert Halmi receive a 5% share in the Roach Studios and for the studio to distribute RHI's films. In July 1986, Robert Halmi Jr. took over the company offices of president and chief operating officer from Halmi Sr., who became the company's chairman and chief executive.
Qintex Australia Ltd. bought 60 percent of Hal Roach Studios for $33.6 million in 1987. On April 11, 1988, Roach Studios and RHI were merged as HRI Group with Qintex owning 43%. Christopher C. Skase gave the company a $70 million line of credit. The Roach Studio also own 20% of HAR Communications, whose HR Broadcasting owned two TV stations, WCGV and WTTO. At the December 7, 1988 annual meeting, the company's name was changed to Qintex Entertainment. Australian David Evans was appointed to head the company. Qintex Entertainment continued Hal Roach Studios as an operating subsidiary along with Qintex Productions. Qintex Entertainment was a publicly listed company trading over the counter after going public in 1989 at $10 per share. Qintex had a deal with MCA for program distribution.
Qintex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 1989, including its two operating subsidiaries, after a failing to pay MCA Television Ltd. what was due in a film distribution agreement for The New Leave It to Beaver. This followed Qintex Australia Ltd. failure to find funding for its bid to buy MGM/UA Communications Corp. for $1.5 billion in October 1988. Qintex and MCA settled in January 1990 with MCA assuming program sales and collections for its programs with Qintex. Qintex sold its stake in HR Broadcasting Co. to Abry Communications for over $40 million.
The company assets and Hal Roach Studios, Inc. were again acquired by RHI Entertainment in June 1990 with New Line Cinema as a shareholder and a loan from Chemical Banking Corporation. From 1990 to 1996, Republic Pictures and Cabin Fever Entertainment was RHI's primary distributor to the home video market. With RHI shareholder New Line Cinema purchased by Turner Broadcasting System, Turner was rumored to be looking to purchase RHI, which was traded on the American Stock Exchange by April 1994.
Hallmark Entertainment unit
Hallmark Cards agreed to purchase RHI in April 1994. RHI had a 1,800 plus hours film library at that time. Then Hallmark Entertainment was formed with RHI and Signboard Hill Production, another Hallmark Cards subsidiary, becoming subsidiaries. Hallmark sold the Filmation library and its rights to Entertainment Rights in March 2004.
RHI Entertainment (2005–2012)
In December 2005, Hallmark Entertainment sold off its production arm to an investor group led by Robert Halmi Jr. and management, along with affiliates of Kelso & Company, and renamed back to RHI Entertainment. In June 2006, David Evans resigned as Crown Media Holdings CEO, then joined RHI as head of global new media operations and channel. Crown Media then sold to RHI Enterprises, LLC its domestic media library in late 2006.
In December 2006, RHI made two five year agreements with Weinstein Company and its affiliated Genius Products. With Weinstein, the company completed a co-production deal. Genius Product agreed to distribution RHI output to the home video market.
With the recession hitting, RHI's major customer Crown Media reduced its orders causing financial issues. With the expiration of RHI Entertainment's exclusive contract with Hallmark Channel, Larry Levinson Productions became the channel's sole producer in 2007.
In 2008, RHI was taken public to raise funds to pay down its debt. RHI sold 13.5 million shares at $14 each bringing in $189 million. Robert Halmi Jr. was the company's Chairman and CEO at the time of the IPO. Proceeds were used to pay off in full a senior second-line credit facility and fund KRH Investments affiliate.
The Last Templar miniseries in January 2009 was co-produced by RHI and NBC Universal. The company in March 2009 had placed five miniseries with NBCUniversal's NBC and Syfy over summer 2009 to 2010. In October 2009, RHI had signed a 100-hour content agreement for Telecinco and its two affiliated channels, Fiction Factory and The Seven. The company's stock was delisted early in 2010.
In December 2010, the company filed a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. RHI had debts of $609 million. The reorganization plan would convert $309 million of the debt to equity giving them 85% ownership and Halimi with 15%. After emerging from bankruptcy in March 2011, Private equity group Catalyst Capital Group would emerge as the company's majority stockholder. Halmi Jr. left the company in July 2011. Halmi Sr. followed suit in February 2012 to launch a new production company, Halmi Company, which is expectation to work with RHI on existing in development projects. Halmi Jr. was replaced on an interim basis as CEO with three executives, Mike Corrigan, David Salzman and Stewart Till.
In March 2012, the company was renamed Sonar Entertainment and appointed Till as CEO. The name change stemmed from the Halmis leaving the company. TPG Capital and Evolution Media Capital funded the company, but later discontinued its close involvement. The company moved into distribution and TV series. In distribution, the company is handling Disaster Pack, Volume One, five four-hour disaster mini-series set distribution), Bomb Girls TV series, The Hunters back-door pilot and four movies to the international market. With Steven E. De Souza on board, the company is producing MPH (Mobile Pursuit and Harassment) as a back-door pilot.
On May 15, 2014, Gene Stein replaced Till as CEO with Till returning to the board of directors. Stein was expected to focus Sonar on TV series. The company began a subscription based YouTube channel, MINIS + MOVIES, on July 15, 2013 starting with 500 titles with additional title added monthly. In 2015 the company relocated its headquarters from New York to Los Angeles and close the New York office.
Scott Free London and Killer Content were signed by the company to first-look deals in December 2014. While the company had two TV series for US channels, The Shannara Chronicles (MTV) and South of Hell for We TV. By August 2015, many new TV series production companies, including Reliance (Georgeville TV), Gaumont, Cineflix, Alcon, Skydance, Legendary and New Regency, had been formed causing financial issues for many of these companies.
Stein left in September 2015 to head up Gaumont International Television. Then the company appointed board member, Thomas Lesinski as interim CEO, then in March 2016 as permanent CEO.
By November 2016, Sonar signed first-look deals with George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smokehouse Pictures and StoryBy Entertainment. Team Downey followed them in November 2016 with a same deal while setting their first project, Singularity TV series. In November 2017, the company signed a first-look deal with Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions.
Tricon Films & Television had declared insolvency in December 2016 and put its library up for sale. Active productions pick up in the Tricon purchase were Counterfeit Cat with Wildseed Studios and in development Go Away, Unicorn! In May 2017, the company diversified its offering with other genres and formats including comedy and non-scripted programming with the acquisition of Tricon assets. Tricon's president founder and president Andrea Gorfolova and other Tricon senior staff moved over to Sonar.
Expanding on its inherited co-production deal with Wildseed, Sonar inked a first-look distribution deal for Wildseed's production. The company picked up distribution for Lottie Bearshout, based on a BAFTA-winning animated short, mixed-media comedy Tuff Pom and The Grim Repo Club animated comedy horror series.
Sonar made its first acquisition to build on its Tricon family library by purchasing rights to Will McIntosh's Watchdog sci-fi adventure book in October 2017. The company is developing a tween-skewing animated kids series based on the novel. By March 2018, the company and Like A Photon Creative of Australia agreed to co-produce Bear & Salmon mixed-media preschool series.
In March 2018, Sonar and The Jim Henson Company inked a deal to co-produce RIFT teen-focused sci-fi series continuing its push into the family-kids market. The series was created and scripted by Simon Racioppa and Richard Elliott who were series runners/producers and developers of Fangbone!.
In April and May 2018, Amazon Studios picked up two series, Lorena and The Hunt, to be produced by Sonar and Monkeypaw. In June 2018, Monkeypaw Productions moved its first-look television deal to Amazon. In August 2018, Sonar Entertainment set Michael Shamberg’s MASproduction to a first-look deal for television and digital platform content.
In December 2018, Sonar took on more production financing from a group led by MidCap Financial with a good portion earmarked for its new children's programming. Catalyst Capital Group reduced the flow of funding in mid-2019, when a few executive left. On August 1, 2019, president of global distribution and co-productions David Ellender was appointed as CEO as Lesinski returned to being a director on the board of directors.
On April 9, 2021, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment signed a definitive agreement to acquire Sonar's assets. CSS will continue to develop and produce Sonar's high-caliber content with strong worldwide appeal and creative talent. CSS will launch additional AVOD networks, one of which will be 5% owned by Sonar and feature their library, and Screen Media will distribute the Sonar library after the acquisition closes.
As of December 2017, Sonar Entertainment's scripted series on-air, in production or slated to commence production include Mr. Mercedes, written by David E. Kelley, based on the novel by Stephen King, with the AT&T AUDIENCE Network for DIRECTV and AT&T Uverse; Seasons One and Two of The Son, starring Pierce Brosnan for AMC; Seasons One and Two of The Shannara Chronicles, for Spike; and Das Boot, an eight-part series based on the acclaimed movie, for Sky.
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Catalyst's portfolio includes Sonar Entertainment, a maker of TV movies and miniseries that changed its name from RHI Entertainment in 2012 after it came out of bankruptcy.
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