Of all the swings that Endeavor is taking to diversify its business, the launch of Endeavor Content may be the biggest.
The division was established last year to develop, package and distribute TV and film projects that hail from clients inside the Endeavor/WME orbit, as well as those from outside entities. Endeavor Content’s involvement can range from offering advisory services for WME and IMG clients on options for getting a greenlight, to putting up seed money to allow creative partners the time to develop material before shopping it on the open market.
Endeavor Content, headed by WME veterans Chris Rice and Graham Taylor, is not a production company, per se. The company’s role is to serve as the matchmaker between creatives and the networks, studios or financiers needed to get a production before the cameras. That is in keeping with the long-standing practice of large talent agencies helping clients arrange financing for independent films.
“We’re not a factory,” says Rice. “We approach every deal with every network and studio as something new. We’re not limited by our precedents like the mass approach you get at a studio.”
Where the business model takes a big turn is when Endeavor Content, in some instances, retains an ownership interest in a project. Additionally, at times, Endeavor Content handles international sales and distribution of a movie or TV series. That became possible after Endeavor acquired IMG, which had an established international TV sales force that largely focused on sports rights and programming. Under the tutelage of Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, Rice and Taylor, that sales force was retrained to also sell scripted TV shows and movies.
The expansion of Endeavor’s activity in the content arena has spurred growing criticism that it is facing inherent conflicts of interest in representing clients at WME at the same time the parent company is looking to own and distribute content.
Endeavor’s response is that the overriding focus of Endeavor Content is to give clients more creative control, more options for selling material and on better economic terms than they would receive from a traditional studio or network. Moreover, Endeavor leadership stresses that the potential for conflicts is mitigated by the fact that all deals are reviewed by outside lawyers and other third parties.
“Ultimately we’re trying to put as many alternatives on the table and our partners go with whatever makes the most sense for them,” Taylor says. Taylor points to Endeavor Content’s recent work with WME client Lin-Manuel Miranda as a prime example.
Earlier this year Miranda’s team reclaimed the film rights to his Broadway musical “In the Heights” after the Weinstein Co.’s implosion. Endeavor Content orchestrated an auction of the film rights, which landed at Warner Bros. Taylor admits that Endeavor Content would have loved the chance to be an investor and to handle international distribution of “Heights.” But for Miranda, a lucrative deal backed by the muscle of Warner Bros. was the most appealing.
“Lin has final cut, full casting approval and a massive first-dollar gross,” Taylor says. “Even in doing a traditional deal, by creating the auction process it led to Lin getting more creative freedom and enhanced economics. Our role is to help creative people figure out pathways to achieving their goals.”
Indeed, as a new entrant in the content arena, Endeavor Content has no choice but to offer lucrative terms to potential partners. The company made a statement early on by getting into business in TV with Peter Chernin’s Chernin Ent., which had previously been set up at 20th Century Fox TV. Two of Endeavor Content’s most high profile projects, BBC America’s “Killing Eve” and Hulu’s “The First,” came from creative talent affiliated with UTA and CAA, respectively. Endeavor Content has also embraced the concept of inclusion riders on its projects to promote diversity at all levels of production.
The expansion of the global demand for content has created a gold rush for talent, and it has opened up options for crafting TV shows in particular. At the same time, the nature of profit participation is changing as the traditional syndication market, the source of most backend coin for creatives, is upended by the shift to ever more vertically integrated conglomerates that want to own as much of their content as possible.
“There’s many different lanes here in terms of how we work with artists,” says Joe Hipps, Endeavor Content senior VP of television. “There’s the sales side, advisory work or wrapping financing and infrastructure around producers.”
On the film side, Endeavor Content has cast a wide net for projects, although it is not in the business of acquiring finished films. The focus is on championing the passion projects of filmmakers that the company believes in, particularly for projects that might otherwise have a hard time getting made at a time of great transition for studio films as well as the independent sector.
“We are very much a global-facing company,” says Negeen Yazdi, Endeavor Content’s senior VP of film who is based in London. Endeavor Content’s startup mentality is a plus in navigating the thicket of producers, financiers and foreign sales agents that are integral to the process. “We come into dealmaking with a problem-solving attitude rather than this-is-the-way-things-are-done attitude,” Yazdi said.
With the right projects, Endeavor Content sees an opening for A-listers to leverage their clout to retain much greater ownership of the content they produce. Endeavor sees this peak TV moment as the biggest opportunity for talent and independent producers since regulatory reforms in the U.S. in the mid-1990s lifted the ban on ABC, CBS and NBC owning most of the shows they aired.
“It’s the best time to be building these businesses,” Rice says. “You’ve still got 60-plus buyers in the U.S. You’ve got new entrants with massive firepower in Netflix and Amazon, and Apple, YouTube and Facebook are next down the line. And you’ve got a massively expanding international market.”
Rice points to a deal Endeavor Content arranged for the BBC production of the series “His Dark Materials” with a budget reported to be more than $10 million per episode. The series has already been renewed for a second season and HBO recently signed on as the U.S. partner.
“Building a show out of the U.K. with that kind of budget would have been unimaginable just two or three years ago,” Rice says. “We’re getting better control, better deal dynamics and great TV shows and movies. It’s literally the best time since before 1995 to build ownership [stakes] for creators.”