'Real World' producer bought out by French co.
Paris-based Banijay Entertainment has consummated its months-long flirtation with “The Real World” producer Bunim-Murray Prods.Banijay has announced that it has acquired Bunim-Murray in a deal believed to be in the mid eight-figure range. As part of the deal, Jonathan Murray will remain chairman of Bunim-Murray, while Bunim-Murray prexy Gil Goldschein plans to remain as well. Bunim-Murray will continue to be headquartered in Los Angeles and keep its name. “Bunim-Murray is one of the few companies with a proven history of delivering high volumes of entertaining and quality programming that strikes a chord with viewers and are continually renewed by networks season after season,” said Banijay chairman Stephane Courbit. “This acquisition reaffirms Banijay’s strategy to integrate in our group the best and most creative international television producers.” Acquisition comes as several international companies continue to kick the tires of U.S. production companies. European shingles — many of which look to emulate the model of mega-congloms FremantleMedia and Endemol — have been looking at U.S. indie outfits in order to gain a foothold in this marketplace. Bunim-Murray came close to being sold last year to John de Mol’s Talpa Media, but a pact was never reached. Among the other companies said to be attracting suitors are Craig Piligian’s Pilgrim Films, A. Smith & Co. and David Broome’s 25/7 Prods. And France’s Zodiak is set to buy RDF Media, creating another major global player. Other companies that have been partly or fully sold in recent years include 51 Minds, which is now operated by Endemol, and Original Prods., partly owned by FremantleMedia North America. Banijay itself had already entered the U.S. marketplace via its co-development deal last year with Angel City Factory, the shingle recently formed by reality producers Chris Cowan and Jean-Michel Michenaud (who formerly ran reality house Rocket Science Laboratories). “All these companies are looking for cash flow and distribution,” one reality TV insider said of the European shingles coming to town. Added another exec: “(Companies like Banijay) are racing around and figure there’s a real business to be had in being a super production company, like a Fremantle.” For Banijay, an acquisition like Bunim-Murray gives the company immediate access to U.S. broadcast and cable networks, allowing them to sell their formats here. And for Bunim-Murray, being linked to an international company like Banijay gives the company a better shot at holding on to its international rights. Although Bunim-Murray is known for several hits, and has served as a training ground for many of today’s top reality producers, it hasn’t held on to ownership of much of its key series. (MTV, for example, controls the rights to “The Real World.”) “Being a part of a group like Banijay will allow us to provide new formats to its affiliated companies in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and other territories, and also give us the opportunity to produce formats from those international companies within the U.S.,” Goldschein said. A pan-European TV powerhouse, Banijay also owns U.K.’s ZigZag, Spain’s Cuarzo, France’s Air Prods., ALJ Prod., Depeche Prod. and Jes Prod., as well as Russia’s Intelegencia. Banijay just created a worldwide distribution division, Banijay Intl. Bunim-Murray is one of the stalwarts of the reality world, having been formed more than 20 years ago by Murray and the late Mary-Ellis Bunim. “The Real World,” which launched in 1992, helped usher in the modern-day TV docuseries. Bunim-Murray’s credits include “Road Rules,” “The Simple Life,” “Bad Girls Club” and “Keeping up With the Kardashians.” It also took over production of “Project Runway,” and spinoff “Models of the Runway,” when that franchise moved to Lifetime. “By joining Banijay, (Bunim-Murray) will be able to continue its past success as well as access international formats and distribute its series and formats to the international marketplace,” Murray said.