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Row 44 of Westlake Village acquired in $430 million deal
[November 09, 2012]

Row 44 of Westlake Village acquired in $430 million deal

Nov 09, 2012 (Ventura County Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Row 44, the Westlake Village-based company that launched in 2004 to provide high-speed broadband Internet service to airline passengers, has been acquired by Global Eagle Acquisition Corp. in a deal valued at $430 million.

Global Eagle, an investment company founded by former Hollywood executives Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky, announced the acquisition Friday morning. They are also acquiring a majority of outstanding shares in the games, movies and general entertainment supplier Advanced Inflight Alliance AG.

Sloan expects the move will give them control over 100 percent of the airline passenger experience, with AIA's access to the installed in-flight entertainment market combined with Row 44's WiFi-to-mobile device capability.

"This is exactly the kind of worldwide digital medial opportunity we've been seeking for Global Eagle since our IPO, and this is also a platform for Jeff and me to utilize our media and content relationships and experience to drive expansion and enhancement of in-flight content and programming around the world," he said in a news release.

Two years ago, Row 44 had 30 full-time employees, most of them engineers, at its headquarters on Oak Crest Drive in Westlake Village.

Row 44 spokesman Robbie Hyman referred questions to Jeff Pryor, a spokesman with Global Eagle. Pryor declined to comment about whether the company would remain in Westlake Village and whether employees would be cut. Pryor said a proxy statement wouldn't be filed until Tuesday.

Row 44 was founded by John Guidon and Gregg Fialcowitz. The pair developed a way to deliver broadband to commercial airlines via satellite, with Hughes Network Systems providing access to its network of satellites and serving as an engineering partner and shareholder.

The company's "Row 44" name came from Guidon, who had a bad experience sitting cramped and unable to recline next to the bathroom in the last row of a long flight.

Early this year it was announced that John LaValle had been named CEO, former CEO Guidon had assumed the role of chief technology officer and Fialcowitz had left the company "to pursue some things he's been working on in private aviation," he said.

LaValle on Friday said the company has had tremendous growth over the last two years and became a desirable acquisition target during that time.

"We believe this acquisition underscores our credibility as a key player in the (in-flight entertainment and communication) market while providing working capital to continue to grow," he said.

Row 44 is the largest satellite-deployed airline WiFi supplier. The satellite system means that unlike competitors, Row 44 isn't dependent on air-to-ground telecommunications networks and thus can provide a signal anywhere in the world over land or water.

"We are privileged to be working with such an experienced group to do even more to give airlines the opportunity to have their passengers' time in the cabin be more productive and entertaining," LaValle said.

Global Eagle will issue about 25 million shares of common stock to Row 44 equity holders, representing a total enterprise value of $250 million. The boards of both Global Eagle and Row 44 have unanimously approved the Row 44 merger.

Completion of the deal is expected to occur in January, subject to approval by Global Eagle and Row 44 stockholders.

___ (c)2012 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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