Insiders confirm that talks are heating up

IMG isn’t commenting on reports that it is in mega-deal talks to purchase Mark Burnett Prods., but insiders confirm that negotiations have heated up.

Burnett has been shopping his company for months, talking to a wide variety of suitors — rumored to include Endemol at one point. But Deadline Hollywood Daily reported late Thursday that IMG chairman Teddy Forstmann has been heavily courting Burnett.

According to industry scuttlebutt, Burnett hadn’t been able to find a buyer up until now because of his hefty pricetag: The hugely successful Burnett is said to be asking $400 million for the shingle.

It’s unclear how much Burnett may wind up getting from IMG. But investment insiders familiar with the deal characterized it as an opportunity for IMG to get into the domestic TV biz in a big way, while Burnett would be able to take advantage of IMG’s large global pipeline.

Burnett has been mostly focused on domestic production: He owns only the U.S. rights to “Survivor,” while his hit “Apprentice” franchise is distributed globally by FremantleMedia.

Burnett’s recent hits include the Fox quizzer “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Producer, whose “Jingles” bows this summer on CBS, just recently signed a partnership with AEG to create live events based on Burnett franchises, as well as jointly develop projects and series based on AEG events.

As for IMG, company already operates two production arms in the U.K. — Tiger Aspect and Darlow Smithson — and is home to hefty sports and fashion divisions. IMG’s various entities already hold broadcast rights to several sports events, and the company produces and distributes more than 11,000 hours of programming a year.

New IMG Global Media prexy Chris Albrecht has already been ramping up the company’s TV domain, hiring Rob Lee earlier this year to head up programming. He also sold Tiger Aspect’s Brit series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” to Showtime.

An IMG-Burnett deal would rep the latest in a series of blockbuster acquisitions of U.S. production shingles by international congloms this year. Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine acquired Reveille in a huge multimillion deal, while Endemol USA gobbled up Cris Abrego and Mark Cronin’s 51 Minds Entertainment.

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