Count Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lionsgate among the early suitors for Endemol Shine, the global production group that is home to such well-traveled series as “Big Brother,” “MasterChef” and “Black Mirror.”
Based in the Netherlands, Endemol Shine is jointly owned by 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management. Fox’s 50% share of the company had been slated to be part of the pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets by Disney. But Fox and Apollo last month retained Deutsche Bank and Aryeh Bourkoff’s Liontree to handle a sale. There have been rumblings for more than a year, prior to Disney’s courtship of Fox, that Fox and Apollo were prepping Endemol Shine for a sale.
Endemol Shine CEO Sophie Turner Laing and other execs have in recent weeks been on a roadshow pitching the company to prospective bidders in the U.K. and U.S. Interested parties have been asked to submit expressions of interest by the end of next week in order to get access to a deeper look at the company’s books. One source familiar with the process said the information presented to date indicated a valuation in the $2 billion range although the asking price is expected to be higher.
Reps for Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lionsgate declined to comment as did spokespeople for 21st Century Fox and Endemol Shine. Others expected to proceed through the early rounds include Liberty Global, ITV, Vivendi and RTL, parent company of FremantleMedia, as reported earlier this week by Reuters. Private equity giants such as Carlyle Group and Blackstone may also join the fray, industry sources said.
Endemol Shine has a big content library and global distribution infrastructure through its outposts in the U.K., U.S., Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Africa. That would seem to make it an attractive target at a time when media firms are focused on high-wattage brands and global scale. But the timing of the sale and the recent history of deals involving unscripted production companies may put a damper on the bidding.
“Many of the most likely buyers may well be sale targets themselves over the next 12 to 18 months. Their owners may be wary of diluting what they own with a large acquisition at this point,” said Lisbeth Barron, chairman-CEO of Barron International Group, an investment banking firm that focuses on media but is unconnected to the Endemol Shine sale. “Given the collection of assets, this may not be such an easy sale. We believe buyers are seeking more than just a portfolio of diversified assets. They’ll pay more for iconic, impactful brands and franchises.”
Endemol Shine was created in 2014 through the merger of Apollo’s Endemol and Fox’s Shine Group. The combined entity has struggled to generate a new generation of reality hits to follow “Big Brother” and “MasterChef.” Endemol Shine was part of a wave of consolidation among unscripted production entities into what became known as “super indies” including Liberty Global/Discovery’s All3Media Group and RTL’s FremantleMedia and France’s Banijay. U.K. broadcaster ITV went on a tear during the past decade of acquiring small production companies at high valuations in an effort to diversify its revenue base beyond advertising into content.
The financial verdicts on all of those investments have to date been mixed. The content sales arena is becoming increasingly Balkanized as the major networks and streaming platforms look to own most if not all of the shows on their air. Outside producers have to come to the pitch meeting with compelling talent or IP rights to command a rich deal and to retain the international distribution rights that are crucial for profitability.
One source noted the fact that Fox did not buy out Apollo’s share of Endemol Shine — a move that many observers had expected within two or three years of the 2014 combination — and Disney’s apparent disinterest in the asset is a significant consideration for those who plan to kick the tires next week.