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Tornante: what is it?

High profile executives aren’t unlike many professional athletes when it comes to retirement; neither stay quiet for long.   It doesn’t matter whether departure was voluntary or forced, or whether success was motivated by love of the game, or the ego stimulation of being a celebrity.  The thrill of competition and the excitement of a big deal are powerful stimulants and tempting lures.

On September 30, 2005 Michael Eisner resigned from Disney a year before his contract expired.  Mr. Eisner seems to have spent much of the time since doing the corporate equivalent of autograph signings: he’s been a fixture on high profile speaking tours.  He’s also been host of his own MSNBC talk show.

It now looks like Eisner is quietly setting the stage to get back into the game through his current business entity The Tornante Company.   The small, Beverley Hills based, company seems to be something of a private equity firm focusing on New Media and Entertainment properties.  (Whether Tornante is capitalized solely by Eisner, or with other investors is unclear.)

Since April 2006, Tornante has made two publicly announced deals.  In both cases, they have provided not only financial capital, but also, it seems, intellectual capital in the form of deal making and introductions.  

The first Tornante deal was a private placement with Veoh Networks,  a San Diego based peer-to-peer Internet video startup that hopes  to provide a higher resolution YouTube–like video service and ad supported streaming television content.   The $12.5m Series B round closed April 18, 2006.  Money in the deal was provided by Tornante, Spark Capital (investors in Akamai) and Time Warner.  It appears, though it’s not confirmed, that Tornante, aided with Eisner’s contacts, helped package the deal and bring in Time Warner.   Eisner took a seat on Veoh’s board following the deal.   Additionally, Tornante seems to have used it’s Hollywood contacts to help Veoh put together a deal with United Talent Agencies which allows unrepresented aspiring movie makers post video content to an affiliated site in the hopes of finding an agent. 

In the second Tornante deal, Tornante acquired children’s sports production company Team Baby Entertainment, LLC for an undisclosed sum in June 2006. Team Baby, which is still run by its founding management team, is known for making 30-plus minute educational children’s DVD’s that are themed to collegiate and professional sports teams.  The Baby Irish video, for example, has Notre Dame themed content complete with officially licensed logos and images.  The company is a marriage of sports marketing and education.  Its product’s tap in to the fanatical passion of some sports fans and allows them to share their love of a team with their toddler and infant children.  

There have been a number of changes at Team Baby Entertainment since Tornante’s acquisition in June in addition to increased national press coverage.  First, Team Baby added an advisory board with experts in pediatrics and education.  Next, it closed licensing deals with NASCAR, Major League Baseball, the NBA and extended its agreement with the NCAA.  By November, 2006, eight celebrities from sports and entertainment, unlikely reachable without the help of Tornante, had also signed on to narrate or provide voice over content on the videos. 

The Eight:

  • Sports commentator Bob Costas (NBA related movie titles)
  • Technology inventor and sports fan Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks Baby)
  • Texas actor Matthew McConaughey (Baby Longhorn Vol. 2)
  • Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner (New York Yankee Baby)
  • Talk show host Regis Philbin (Baby Irish: Notre Damn)
  • Car loving comedian Jay Leno (NASCAR Baby)
  • Sportscaster Al Michaels (MLB), and
  • Basketball coach Pat Riley (Miami Heat Baby).
  • Actor Ben Affleck (Red Sox Baby)

The first Tornante deals, which leverage Michael Eisner’s contacts and acumen, are likely just a start.  Eisner’s contacts and media knowledge make him an ideal “smart money” partner.  He’ll have the cream of the crop to choose from if he wants it.

I couldn’t accurately guess how active Tornante will be, as either Management Company or investor, over the next year or two.  Two to five deals a year wouldn’t be a surprise.  I suspect it depends on how busy and active Michael Eisner wants to be. Whatever the activity level, seeing Eisner making deals is expected.  It’s hard to imagine speaking engagements alone keeping someone like him challenged.  So far, he’s actually made fewer deals than I would expect.

In the media, entertainment and technology microcosm, Tornante is a company to watch even if they only get involved in one project a year. Now if I only knew what the name meant.

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