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Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Writers’ Guild vs. Talent Agencies

Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA
sonia pulido for Variety

Private equity (PE) firms are tightening their grip on the major Hollywood talent agencies. 

Crestview Partners, a PE firm managing about $9 billion in assets, on Monday spent nearly $150 million on a 33% stake in ICM Partners, one of the four major Hollywood talent agencies (WME, CAA, and UTA are the other three).

With the investment, at least $3.3 billion has now been invested (not equally) across WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM.

The move is likely causing some worries among Hollywood’s writers, the labor union of which released a report in March detailing how PE investment in top agencies has pushed those firms “even further away from business practices that serve the interests of their clients.”

Private equity ownership’s most significant effect on top agencies has been the growing agency focus on buying and making content, according to the WGA. WME’s Endeavor Content has financed and/or sold over 100 shows and films since 2017, for example. The WGA argues that these practices create a conflict of interest as it opens up opportunities for agencies to be both employing and representing their clients.

ICM CEO Chris Silbermann pushed back at the idea that the cash influx would push ICM into content production, though time will tell if the company stays true to its mission of focusing on representation.

In the meantime, the Crestview-ICM deal is likely to accelerate the expansion of the talent agency biz globally. Deadline last week reported rumblings of a possible WME expansion into London, for example. And ICM is in the midst of negotiating deals to buy agencies in other countries like the U.K., according to the LA Times.

This is one of a series, 19 Trends That Defined the Media Business in 2019.