Overnight, UTA has become a force in the TV news business and a much bigger player in unscripted TV production.
UTA’s union with N.S. Bienstock agency promises to expand the scope of both agencies in growing areas of the TV biz. And UTA has bucked the trend among major agencies in financing the deal with its own resources. WME just set a blockbuster $2.4 billion transaction last month to acquire IMG Worldwide in tandem with private equity partner Silver Lake.
UTA has been approached in recent months by private equity investors about the possibility of a partnership — as WME has with Silver Lake and CAA has with TPG. But after considering the possibility of an influx of capital to finance expansion activities, UTA opted against bringing in outside coin. The Bienstock deal was financed with internal resources, though the structure of the deal is unclear.
The conversations between UTA and Bienstock co-founders Richard Leibner and Carole Cooper have been going on for about a year. The deal closed Friday.
“It just seemed like a perfect match,” says UTA managing director Jay Sures, who will oversee Bienstock for UTA. “Over time we got to know them better and better and we had many conversations about how to put a transaction together.”
Bienstock has maintained its clout in the TV news talent arena even as the largest Hollywood talent agencies have bulked up during the past decade. With opportunities in TV and digital exploding, Leibner and Cooper realized they needed more reach to remain competitive. The percentery has more than 600 clients.
“We’ve been approached by many people over the years,” Leibner said. “With the consolidation going on in the industry as well as the fact that there are so many new technologies and distribution systems, the timing felt right to join with UTA and have access to their vast resources.”
Bienstock reps a host of big names in TV news — Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts and Megyn Kelly, to name a few — and it has a sizable roster of producers and production companies active in unscripted cable programming. Those clients are a big asset to UTA’s existing unscripted efforts.
In joining forces, Bienstock will draw on UTA’s resources for clients that want to pursue more Hollywood film and TV opportunities, and vice versa. The blurring of the lines among news, entertainment and “info-tainment” programming across the dial (particularly with the makeover Jeff Zucker is implementing at CNN) makes for intriguing prospects for the UTA-Bienstock client roster.
“The goal is to offer a level of service to (Bienstock) clients that they haven’t been able to offer, and Bienstock will bring great institutional knowledge to UTA clients,” Sures said.
Even with the sale to UTA, the Bienstock moniker will endure for the agency that was launched in 1964 by Leibner and Cooper. The name reflects the surname of an insurance salesman, Nate Bienstock, who specialized in selling life insurance policies to radio and newspaper owners. Richard Leibner came to know Bienstock through his father, who was an accountant for the famed writer John Steinbeck. (Steinbeck had a policy from Bienstock).
Leibner talked Bienstock into expanding into the talent representation business. Leibner and Cooper eventually bought out the business but retained the name.
“I kept the name as an homage to the man who changed my life,” Leibner said.