Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Sale Valued at $900 Million, Say Insiders
The pandemic amplified our appetite for video content. As a result, the average American now has four different paid streaming video subscriptions, with 23 percent of consumers having added one or more services since the start of the pandemic. Ex-Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs plan to take advantage of this trend through an as-yet-unnamed new venture backed by the private equity firm Blackstone Group Inc. The men want to position “Newco” as an entertainment organization geared explicitly for the streaming era, and their very first acquisition is a majority share in Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine.
Those in the know report the deal to have valued Hello Sunshine at $900 million. And The Wall Street Journal broke the news by disclosing that Blackstone will provide $500 million to buy out existing shareholders AT&T and Emerson Collective. Witherspoon and other Hello Sunshine executives will retain some shares in the company, and she and CEO Sarah Harden will continue to oversee operations. The two will also take up board positions on “Newco” with Mayer and Staggs.
Actress, Author, Singer, Producer, and Entrepreneur
Although Witherspoon started acting as a teenager, she did not necessarily achieve wide appeal until she played Elle Woods in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde and its 2003 sequel. The third highest-paid female actress in 2020–21, according to Women in the World, she has received several prestigious accolades for her acting, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award. She has also been listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World twice (2006 and 2015) and one of Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2019.
When cast as Johnny Cash’s second wife, June Carter Cash, in Walk the Line (2005), Witherspoon worked with vocal coach Roger Love for six months to perform her own vocals. From having never sung professionally, she suddenly had to perform in front of live audiences. In 2013, she performed the duet “Somethin’ Stupid” with Michael Buble on his To Be Loved album.
In 2015, Witherspoon launched her clothing company, Draper James, initially online and then in a physical location in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Named for her grandparents, Dorothea Draper and William James Witherspoon, it focuses on fashion and decor inspired by the American South.
Ever proud of her Southern heritage and a self-confessed lifelong bookworm, in 2018, Witherspoon published her first book, Whiskey in a Teacup — a memoir of what growing up in the South meant to her. And she puts her incredible skills and high profile to work for several organizations that advocate for children’s and women’s rights.
In 2000, she made her first foray into production with her company Type A Films, which she later merged with Hello Sunshine.
A Production Company for the Female Voice
Witherspoon started Hello Sunshine in 2016, believing the world was ready to hear more stories from women’s perspectives. One of its award-winning productions, HBO’s Big Little Lies, starred Witherspoon with Nicole Kidman. It premiered in 2017 as a single-season series, but female viewers connected so strongly with the characters that a second season was produced. Based on Liane Moriarty’s bestselling book, it addresses subjects such as bullying, lying, parenting, friendship, and domestic violence.
In Apple’s The Morning Show, Witherspoon co-stars with Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell. The story shares glaring similarities to the scandal surrounding TODAY host Matt Lauer, who was accused of sexual assault and subsequently fired as part of the groundswell of the #MeToo Movement.
Witherspoon says the partnership with Mayer and Staggs will mean Hello Sunshine can bring even more female-led stories to viewers. And it has her very excited about the future. “I started this company to change the way all women are seen in media. Over the past few years, we have watched our mission thrive through books, TV, film, and social platforms. Today, we’re taking a huge step forward by partnering with Blackstone, which will enable us to tell even more entertaining, impactful and illuminating stories about women’s lives globally.”
Harden confirms the team is on the same page and very much committed to the belief that women’s stories matter. She describes their growth plan as ambitious. And for their part, Mayer and Staggs say they’re looking forward to working with Witherspoon and Harden to foster talent that will produce innovative content for years to come.
With demand for streaming growing at its current pace, media deals are hot. And even Apple considered Hello Sunshine when it was first placed for sale. Mayer and Staggs now look set to roll up other smaller media companies. They’re in talks with LeBron James’ SpringHill Company and Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment.