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ICM Partners Sells One-Third Stake to Crestview Partners for $150 Million

ICM Partners has become the latest Hollywood talent agency to partner with a private equity firm, selling a one-third stake in the agency to Crestview Partners for about $150 million.

The deal marks a milestone for the current iteration of ICM, which became a partner-owned agency in May 2012 when Chris Silbermann and 28 other partners bought the company back from its previous private equity partner, Rizvi Traverse Management. Relations between Rizvi and ICM became fraught by the end of the relationship that spanned about seven years.

This time around, Silbermann maintains the structure of the agency’s deal with Crestview is different. The partnership structure remains the majority owner of ICM. But as part of the capital influx, the partnership will undergo some transition as some existing equity holders will be bought out.

“We structured it much differently than before,” Silbermann told Variety. “We have control of the agency. I am the CEO and that’s not changing. We control the board; it’s run by agents.”

Silbermann said the investment money would be used in part to help “reward” employees at all levels of the agency. It will also help fund acquisition of other agencies and related assets. And it will be used to help recruit top agents.

The influence of private investment cash in the talent agency business has become a point of concern for many in the creative community. The Writers Guild of America has pointed to this trend as a reason for the guild’s effort to tighten the rules of the road for agents that represent WGA members — a conflict that has led to lawsuits and more than 7,000 writers firing agents en masse last April.

Silbermann emphasized that ICM’s focus on the business of talent representation will not change.

“The world’s changing night and day,” Silbermann said. “This will give us the firepower we need to go have some very interesting conversations and make some interesting deals.”

Brian Cassidy, partner and head of media for Crestview, credited ICM with delivering “dramatic growth” that reflects the booming market for talent.

“We are thrilled to partner with Chris and the dedicated agents and senior management team at ICM Partners, to help accelerate their expansion at a time of unprecedented global demand for content, content creators and the artists that bring it all alive,” Cassidy said. “With a strong leadership team and a sole focus on client representation, we are confident that ICM is well-positioned for further success in this industry.”

ICM hired investment bank Lazard last year to gauge the market interest in the agency. Crestview Partners felt like the right fit to Silbermann, who went into the investor courtship process with the memory of the Rizvi Traverse conflicts fresh in his mind.

ICM intends to maintain its focus on traditional Hollywood talent agency functions rather than pursue the diversification seen in varying degrees at WME, CAA and UTA.

Crestview is “singularly focused on supporting our vision of being a representation company first and foremost,” Silbermann said. “They’re not going to push me into things outside of the representation business or into production. They supported the partnership structure. We’re not changing into a corporate structure. They are supporting the cultural significance of what a partnership means.”

CAA’s majority owner is private equity giant TPG. Under the Endeavor umbrella, WME is largely owned by Silver Lake. UTA last year took on two additional investors —  Investcorp and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board — in addition to ValueAct Capital founder Jeffrey Ubben, who came on board in 2015.

Based in New York, Crestview manages about $9 billion in assets. Past media-related investments have included cable operators Charter Communications and Insight Communications, and radio station owner Cumulus Media.

ICM was advised on the deal by Lazard, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, and Latham & Watkins. Crestview was advised by Davis Polk & Wardwell.

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