Swedish video game and media company Embracer Group today announced the purchase of Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) from The Saul Zaentz Company, acquiring all its IP for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in the process.
One of the most-exciting aspects of this annoucement for Tolkien fans is Embracer’s suggestion that it will explore “additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from Tolkien’s literary works.”
Through MEE, The Saul Zaentz Company held a huge catalogue of worldwide rights to motion pictures, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks and stage productions all relating to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit , as well as matching rights in other Middle-earth-related literary works authorized by the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins.
Announcing the deal, Embracer Group CEO and Founder Lars Winger said he was excited to be bringing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit IP into the Embracer group.
I am thrilled to see what lies in the future for this IP with Freemode and Asmodee as a start within the group. Going forward, we also look forward to collaborating with both existing and new external licensees of our increasingly stronger [sic] IP portfolio.
The COO of The Saul Zaentz company said:
We at the Zaentz Company have had the honor over the past half century of stewarding the Tolkien rights so that Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans worldwide could enjoy award winning epic films, challenging video games, first rate theatre and merchandise of every variety. We could not be more thrilled that it is Embracer now taking up the responsibility and we are confident their group will take it to new heights and dimensions while maintaining homage to the spirit of these great literary works.
The Saul Zaentz Company has been producing and licensing a wide variety of successful video games, board games, stage productions and merchandise based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for more than forty-five years.
Middle-earth Enterprises: “Embracer the perfect home for Middle-earth”
Fredrica Drotos, the Chief Brand and Licensing Officer of Middle-earth Enterprises said that Middle-earth Enterprises was also thrilled to join the Embracer Group family.
The M-E team whole-heartedly endorses Asmodee’s Andy Jones’ assessment that “Embracer is the perfect home for Middle-earth”… and “the adventure is just beginning”.
We look forward to working together with our new family, to explore new opportunities, and to support the continuing efforts of our long-time partners including all our licensees, and of course, the folks at theonering.net!
Embracer offshoot Asmodee already works in the Middle-earth space
One of Embracer’s subsidiaries, Asmodee Group, is already a very successful licensee of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit through board games and card games. It’s published over a dozen games with more than 100 expansions since the release of The Lord of the Rings board game over 20 years ago, including classics such as The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.
An interest in the success of The Rings of Power
Key upcoming works set in Middle-earth, in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests, include the much-heralded Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, the animated movie The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros) which is set for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic Arts).
Potential for new, additional movies
The press release also states that other opportunities include exploring additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and continue to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences.
No change to the operation of Middle-earth Enterprises
Middle-earth Enterprises will be a part of the newly founded operative group Embracer Freemode. The company will continue to operate independently under the existing Middle-earth Enterprises leadership team, working closely with Embracer Freemode management and other Embracer operative groups to foster opportunities, growth and synergies within the Group to continue to build and expand the great franchise.
Embracer Group owns 125 companies, nearly all video game developers and publishers, and only recently acquired Dark Horse comics. It own 85 franchises including Borderlands, Duke Nukem and Hellboy. This is one of their first, and largest, pure IP acquisitions.
NOTE: This article has been updated to include reaction from Middle-earth Enterprises.
Saul Zaentz Co., has filed two trademark applications covering a pair of phrases now associated with Amazon’s forthcoming TV series: “Rings of Power” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”.
The company is the current owner of exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It also announced in early February that it was putting all those rights up for sale.
The trademark applications, which were filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) on April 5 through German intellectual property specialists Boehmert & Boehmert, cover a wide array merchandising for goods and services under different categories.
Closer examination of the two filings, however, reveal that the key crossover between the two seems to cover electronic downloadable and online games and trading cards under Nice categories #9 and #41.
Whether that indicates that a Rings of Power-associated video game might be in the works as part of some partnership with Amazon remains to be seen. But, since the Saul Zaentz Company holds in perpetuity the trademarks on all the characters and places in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it might have to be involved in merchandising deals.
For Immediate Release: ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ Rights Offered to Pioneering Fan Site, TheOneRing.net
BERKELEY, CA, USA — Pioneering fan site, TheOneRing.net, has been awarded the opportunity to officially bid to become part of Middle-earth. As announced in early 2022, The Saul Zaentz Company reported its intent to sell its Tolkien holdings, which include movie, merchandising, gaming and live event rights to “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”. The company hired investment bankers to manage the sale, and as part of the process, The One Ring, Inc, operating as TheOneRing.net, has been offered an exclusive 4-month window to become part of the buyers group. The extension was granted to allow the volunteer members of TheOneRing.net time to launch a ground-breaking and ambitious effort to give fans control of these historic properties.
“We realize the effort will be monumental, and the stakes are high, but if Frodo can take the Ring to Mount Doom, we sure as heck can get fans a chance to be stakeholders and advocates of Tolkien’s work.”
Michael Regina, Executive Editor and Co-Founder
TheOneRing.net will be launching this fundraising effort in the coming weeks via their website, social media platforms, and their newly minted Discord channel. (discord.gg/theonering).
Multiple levels of participation will be offered, from US$5 to the max tier of $250,000,000. Perks will include original manuscripts of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ as well as celebrity experiences with the plethora of individuals who have entered the Tolkien sphere over the past 80 years.
Kirsten Cairns, Senior Editor and Director of Partnerships for TheOneRing.net, who spearheaded TheOneRing.net’s previous successful crowdfund campaign, says:
“’The Lord of the Rings’ alone has sold nearly 150 million copies. If we can persuade those passionate fans each to donate at least $10 to this effort, we’ll be halfway there.”
The rights are expected to sell for an astounding $2 Billion with main competition coming from Universal (NYSE:UVV) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN)
About TheOneRing.net Founded in 1999 by a group of like-minded Tolkien fans so anxious for the coming Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films that they were gathering up every scrap of production information to be found, TheOneRing.net continues today in bringing fans the latest news on the beloved figures involved in the making of the wildly popular Lord of the Rings movies, as well as the newest information available on upcoming productions, Tolkien-centered events, new publications, and fan gatherings.
About the Saul Zaentz Company Based in Berkeley, Calif., Zaentz Co. is home to Middle-earth Enterprises, which handles its Tolkien-related licensing. Zaentz first made his name as the longtime leader of Fantasy Records, an influential jazz and rock label in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. He also produced such movies as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Amadeus” (1984) and “The English Patient” (1996), all three of which earned Oscars for best picture.
It was MGM’s precarious financial situation in the mid-2000s that delayed The Hobbit film series and contributed to the departure of Guillermo Del Toro from the production. Peter Jackson subsequently assumed the directorial role.
Amazon says it’s acquisition of “the storied, nearly century-old studio … will complement Prime Video and Amazon Studios’ work in delivering a diverse offering of entertainment choices to customers.”
Variety reports that the buy followed merger approval by the European antitrust regulator. That body’s review decided that overlaps between Amazon and MGM were “limited”.
Readers may recall that the Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced the sale of its entire holding of Middle-earth IP, and that there is an ongoing legal stoush over whether Warner Bros./New Line Cinema still retains its LOTR/Hobbit film adaptations license. Given the above, it’s not impossible (though the chance is, perhaps, remote) that Amazon could eventually unite all the currently available Middle-earth film and television IP under its own banner.
According to Variety’s sources, the argument stems from disagreement about whether the studio has met ongoing obligations needed to maintain the long-term license that it has held since the late 1990s.
In a statement to Variety, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said:
New Line Cinema has maintained the theatrical film rights, both live-action and animated, for over two decades now. We are currently in production on our anime film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’ and look forward to bringing audiences back to Middle-earth.
As Variety points out, license deals such as this “often involve producers conducting a certain level of development and production activity by pre-determined dates, among other clauses.”
However, it is the Saul Zaetnz Co. (through its subsidiary, Middle-earth Enterprises) that holds the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit “in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.”
Variety adds that this includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate make movies or other content based on two Tolkien books published after his death: The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
The Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced that it will auction all its Tolkien IP rights. Universal and Warner Bros. are both reported to be interested.
Entertainment rag Variety is reporting that The Saul Zaentz Company is set to sell all of its Tolkien IP.
The company holds, according to its site, “exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.”
It originally acquired the rights in 1976 in an arrangement with United Artists. It subsequently licensed rights to filmmaker Ralph Bakshi for an animated film (released in 1978) and for director Peter Jackson to produce live-action trilogies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Variety states that the sale could be worth at least US $2 billion, “based on recent high valuations for top-tier IP and content producers”. ACF Investment Bank is currently shopping a deal around with a number of prospective buyers.