Russia’s UFG Private Equity said to buy blocking stake in “Masha and the Bear”

Russia’s UFG Private Equity said to buy blocking stake in “Masha and the Bear”
Masha and the Bear was the first Russian clip to reach 1bn views on YouTube
By Ben Aris in Berlin December 22, 2016

Russia’s UFG Private Equity has reportedly bought the rights to the iconic children cartoon “Masha y Medved” (Masha and the Bear), a very rare example of a post-Soviet consumer product that has proven to have truly global appeal.

The much-beloved but always slightly naughty Masha shares a house with the Bear who she teases with pranks and japes, to the delight of Russian children since it was first screened in January 2009. The digitised series has been a smash hit and last year it became the first ever Russian-language clip to reach a billion views, with the classic episode “porridge” being the favourite. 

UFG Private Equity, part of UFG Asset Management, has bought a blocking stake in the company that controls the sale of licenses for use of the characters of the popular cartoon series, reported Vedomosti on December 21.

UFG bought the 25% stake from the Cyprus-registered Rodleport Holdings, with the rest of the company remaining with the Russian PBT Invest LLC, which is controlled by two US companies that have anonymous beneficial owners.

The series is produced by Studio Animakkord, which is 80% owned by Sergey Kuzmin, who created the characters and remains the main producer. The general director of the studio is Dmitry Loveyko, who owns another 20% of the studio.

A source close to UFG, and a person close to the main owners of “Masha and the Bear”, confirmed that UFG acquired a blocking stake in the Russian company for an undisclosed sum, reported Vedomosti.

As there is very little dialogue, the cartoon has travelled very well. “Masha y Medved’s” brand recognition amongst children 3-9 years old in Europe is more than 50%, and in some countries such as Italy where it is shown on TV it is as high as 85%, according to Loveyko.

The production cost of an episode is $250,000 according to Loveyko, and for the series of 26 episodes is $6.5mn, which is covered by licensing deals with Russian and other broadcasters. However, the brand also earns significant revenues from merchandising and the company is already profitable. The motive for the deal was the founders simply wanted to cash out some value from their success.

Among the incomes streams, advertising revenues paid by YouTube represents 75% of the company’s ad revenue and most of that is earned from ads run in countries other than Russia.

However, the company has had a difficult few years. In 2015 revenues were halved to RUB137.6mn ($2.2mn) y/y and the firm made its first ever loss.

This year Loveyko predicts that revenue growth from licensing will grow by 25% y/y. However, he admitted that the company felt the crisis in the Russian market where the sale of children’s goods is down by 40-50%.