LONDON — U.K. broadcaster ITV is to acquire a controlling stake in U.S production company Leftfield Entertainment Group, which produces “Pawn Stars.”
The deal will make ITV’s U.S. production arm, ITV Studios U.S. Group, the largest independent unscripted producer in the U.S., the company claimed.
The acquisition reps a milestone in ITV’s strategy of building a strong international content business, particularly in the U.S. In the past 18 months, ITV has acquired Gurney Prods., High Noon Entertainment, Thinkfactory Media and DiGa Vision in the U.S., as well as U.K. producers So Television, The Garden and Big Talk.
ITV will make an initial cash payment of $360 million for 80% of Leftfield, with further potential payments dependent on Leftfield’s continued delivery of significant profit growth. There are put and call options in place to buy the remaining 20% of Leftfield under which a call option can be exercised from three years after the initial deal and a put and call at the end of year five.
Leftfield Entertainment Group was created when Leftfield Pictures acquired Sirens Media last March, followed shortly afterwards by the creation of two joint ventures — Loud Television and Outpost Entertainment.
Leftfield Pictures, which was founded by CEO Brent Montgomery, sold its first series in 2008, and the group now produces more than 300 hours of unscripted programming a year for more than 30 U.S. networks. It has a strong ongoing production slate with 26 series commissioned for 2014 and 31 development projects underway.
“Pawn Stars” has topped the ratings on History for four years in a row, and is the channel’s number one show worldwide. It has been commissioned for 104 episodes this year to take its total number to almost 400 shows since the series was originally commissioned in 2009.
Other successful Leftfield series include Sirens Media’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” the second highest rated show in Bravo history, as well as History’s “Counting Cars” and “American Restoration.”
Montgomery, who remains CEO of the Leftfield Group, will continue to seek partnerships and joint ventures to grow the business under the Leftfield Entertainment banner, ITV said. Sirens Media, Loud Television and Outpost Entertainment will all continue to report into Montgomery.
Adam Crozier, chief executive of ITV, said: “Leftfield is a fantastic success story, rapidly growing from a single pilot to become one of the biggest indies in the U.S. The team has combined creativity with strong production expertise, with over 70% of the business coming from returning series and a pipeline of new ideas coming through in 2014 and 2015 that is really encouraging.”
Montgomery said: “This is an incredibly exciting time at Leftfield, as our agreement with ITV marks a major milestone in the company’s evolution. Two decades into the explosion of unscripted television, our business is changing more rapidly than ever.
“To continue developing aggressively for emerging markets, creating new genres and working with the most talented and inspired producers — both in the U.S. and abroad — requires collaboration and partnership. Our teammates at ITV are in sync with Leftfield creatively and commercially, and I’m looking forward to working with them for the next five years and beyond. We’re confident that, together, we will continue to deliver breakthrough programming for buyers around the world.”