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Bell Media bets on live productions – and Meat Loaf

Bell Media announced on Sept. 6, 2016, that it was entering into a partnership with Iconic Entertainment Studios to co-produce Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, a musical based on Meat Loaf’s album trilogy, which is beginning showings in February, 2017, in Manchester, England.

Bell Media is ready to raise the curtain on a new venture in live musical theatre, banking on the experience of producer Michael Cohl and the success of rock artist Meat Loaf to spawn a runaway hit – and profits.

The Canadian media giant is set to announce on Tuesday that it is entering into a new, long-term, multiproject partnership with Iconic Entertainment Studios, founded by Mr. Cohl. The partnership is a strategic evolution for Bell Media, a division of BCE Inc., according to Bell Media's president of broadcasting and content, Randy Lennox.

The first act for the new partnership will be Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, based on Meat Loaf's album – the fifth bestselling album of all time – and its two sequels. They are taking their cue from the success of Mamma Mia!, another musical that turned best-selling songs into a theatre production that spawned a $1-billion worldwide phenomenon, in the hopes that they too can drive people to the box office.

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Mr. Lennox, a long-time music industry executive with Universal Music Canada, sees the company's first foray into live theatre as a natural extension of its array of existing media properties and one that will fit well with the company's powerful marketing capabilities.

"A significant priority for us at Bell [Media] is content creation, not only here in Canada but worldwide and this is a great example of taking a swing at a business, the live theatre business … [that is] a really vertically integrated content strategy," Mr. Lennox said in an interview.

Mr. Lennox noted the array of possible spinoffs, including movies, television, soundtracks and merchandising opportunities, from a successful run of Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, which is set to begin its first showing on Feb. 17, 2017, in Manchester, England.

It's an ambitious project for Bell Media and Mr. Lennox, but one he and his team relish. Speaking about the possibility of scaling up the production country by country, Mr. Lennox said he loves the "ambition of ubiquity."

"The ambition of ubiquity is our goal – in a modest, Canadian kind of way," he said. "There's nothing wrong with being ambitious and also being polite about it."

The live theatre business is a notoriously difficult one. A 2010 book, Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theatre, notes that less than a third of commercial Broadway productions broke even between 1999 and 2008. Canadian startup Dancap Productions was shuttered in 2012 with an estimated $40-million in losses after just five years in operation, having failed to find the right mixture for a smash hit success. Mr. Cohl, too, saw a staggering loss with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with the production closing prematurely and at a loss estimated at up to $60-million (U.S.).

Mr. Lennox, however, is confident of success when it comes to his company's new project with Mr. Cohl, whom he described as the "premier live theatre promoter in the world."

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"We have a man [Mr. Cohl] with a tremendous track record of success throughout the years with an idea that I think that targets a very active audience who is interested in going out and being entertained."

Bat Out of Hell: The Musical is set to run in Manchester until the end of April, 2017, before moving to London. From there, Toronto could be next, with talks under way to run the musical in four major cities worldwide.

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