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Purchases put Qdos third in UK regions

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Qdos Entertainment has announced a major expansion, acquiring Hetherington Seelig Theatres to become the third largest theatre operator in the UK regions, with five venues and a predicted turnover of around £50 million.

Qdos, the world’s most prolific pantomime producer, had been working in partnership with Hetherington Seelig since 2006 under the banner of HQ Theatres. It will now take full control of the operation, creating a venues division which includes the Cliffs Pavilion Southend, the Palace Theatre Westcliff, the Swan Theatre High Wycombe, the Wyvern Theatre Swindon and the Beck Theatre Hayes. Only Live Nation and the Ambassador Theatre Group control more theatres in the regions. Qdos has also acquired actors agency JLM and The Entertainment Department UK – better known as TED UK – one of the country’s leading suppliers of shows to holiday centres such as the Warner and Thomson resorts.

TED UK will join the company’s content division and brings with it TPA, its show production unit, and Cheeky Monster Merchandising, which specialises in custom merchandise and will join Qdos’ services division. JLM will add to Qdos’ existing agencies, International Artistes and QVoice, in its talent division.

Qdos chairman Nick Thomas told The Stage the strategy behind the three acquisitions had been to find organisations which could “cross-fertilise”, so, for example, the venues will host product from the content department, while other acquisitions might provide programmes and merchandise for the shows. He added that the company’s push to diversify had been instigated by the challenge posed by First Family Entertainment – the joint venture pantomime company from Live Nation and ATG – to its core panto business.

“FFE’s emergence certainly prompted an appetite to look at other areas and we felt we identified a gap in the market,” said Thomas. “The spread of business we’ve got gives us a diversification of risk. All the companies are different risk profiles – we’re not solely reliant on pantos, or venues or talent. As a group it gives us a better spread of risk than our competitors.”

Thomas also stressed the expansion was achieved with no outside investment and 98% of the organisation was still controlled by him, John Conway and Phil Dale, who have all been with the company since 1992.

He added: “Over the past few years we’ve followed a buy and build strategy, targeting companies that are synergistic with the Qdos business model. Our latest acquisitions represent an exciting stage in the company’s growth – the enlarged group will generate a turnover of around £50 million and will employ 500 staff.”

By comparison, ATG – regionally the UK’s second largest theatre operator – has an annual turnover of around £65 million and generated a pre-tax profit of £1.4 million in 2005/6. Thomas said in the first year, the enlarged Qdos group would look to make a pre-tax profit of around £3 million, adding that he is also in negotiations with six more venues to continue the expansion.

Following the acquisitions, Stephen Hetherington will become non-executive chairman of HQ Theatres, while Joseph Seelig will become a non-executive director. Senior staff at TED are to remain in their current roles, as are those at JLM.

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