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Napster's Sean Parker yet to seek OIO approval for Weta Digital stake

Wednesday 18th September 2019

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Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker's representatives have discussed his planned investment in Weta Digital with the Overseas Investment Office, but are yet to lodge a formal application. 

Weta and Parker announced the deal last week, which will see Parker take a minority stake in the Wellington-based digital and cinematic effects firm which has built a global reputation working on blockbuster movies. US-based representatives for Weta wouldn't provide any more detail. 

Parker co-founded the controversial music file-sharing service Napster in 1999 and served as the first president of social media juggernaut Facebook in 2004. 

Foreign investment in New Zealand needs regulatory approval if it involves buying or acquiring an interest in sensitive land, such as residential property, or crosses the $100 million threshold for business assets. 

"The Overseas Investment Office has engaged with representatives of Weta Holdings, LLC regarding a potential application for consent to invest in Weta Digital Limited," said OIO group manager Vanessa Horne.

Palo Alto-based Weta Holdings was formed in April this year in the state of Delaware, with Tom van Loben Sels and Michael Polansky named as managers. Both are board members of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which was founded and is chaired by Parker. 

The OIO hasn't received a formal application from Parker's interests and said it can't comment further until one is officially made.

Weta Digital is the visual effects arm of Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor's Wellington film empire. It sits alongside post-production unit Park Road Post Production, equipment hire company Portsmouth Rentals, physical effects unit Weta Workshop, and the WingNut Films production company. 

Jackson said in a statement that Parker will bring "invaluable expertise that will fortify Weta Digital from a technological perspective" and help focus the company's growth aspirations. 

Weta Digital's revenue grew at an annual compound rate of 19.9 percent between 2007 and 2015, according to a 2017 New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report into the nation's screen industry. 

Statistics New Zealand data show Wellington's post-production screen industry generated gross revenue of $494 million in 2018, up from $449 million a year earlier. The city's film production revenue was $121 million, down from $235 million in 2017.

(BusinessDesk)

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