Mattel acquires Thomas & Friends owner

US toy maker Mattel has acquired Hit Entertainment, owner of pre-school British brands including Thomas & Friends and Bob the Builder, in a deal thought to be worth $680m (£426m).

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The global deal will give Mattel a foothold in television, which will allow it to explore growth opportunities, particularly in emerging markets, where properties such as Thomas & Friends are already extremely popular among children.

Hit Entertainment claims Thomas & Friends is the biggest licensed pre-school property in the world and Mattel will continue to expand and grow its product lines.

The acquisition could also see Mattel properties, such as Barbie, Fisher-Price and Hot Wheels move on to television as it looks to gain an edge against rival toymakers such as Disney, Hasbro and Tomy.

Chairman and chief executive of Mattel, Robert Eckert says: “The addition of the Hit Entertainment team will complement our licensing business and also augment our capabilities on the content side.”

Mattel already works alongside Hit Entertainment and handles marketing for Thomas & Friends toys, although “more than half” of the revenue generated from the franchise comes from non-toy products.

Hit Entertainment chief executive Jeffrey Dunn says: “It is fitting that the world’s premier toy company should become the owner of the world’s premier pre-school property.”

US cable network Sprout, in which Hit Entertainment owns a stake in conjunction with Comcast and PBS, was not part of the Mattel acquisition.

Hit Entertainment has been privately owned by London buyout firm Apax Partners since 2005.

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