The media and entertainment industry’s rapid shift to streaming video will certainly lead to winners and losers. And Thomas Dey, president and CEO of ACF Investment Bank, predicts that networks and services that are stuck between those with massive scale and those with niche audiences will get “washed away.”
On the latest episode of Variety‘s “Strictly Business,” Dey says the players in the middle will be ripe for acquisition or will die off, as Netflix, Amazon and Disney at this point are best positioned to be global streaming giants.
“There’s going to be very dominant, very big players that will have largely global networks that can be more efficient and reach more corners” alongside “ultra-niche” content providers, he says. “I think everyone in between…will either go out of business or be sucked up into the bigger entities.”
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Dey, who co-founded ACF in 2010 after two decades in media investment banking and finance, has brokered numerous M&A deals over the years (and was named to Variety‘s 2020 Dealmakers Impact Report, for the eighth year running). Earlier this year, he advised “Black Mirror” duo Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones on their multi-year deal with Netflix.
He’s previously worked on sales of Leftfield Entertainment to ITV, Pilgrim to Lionsgate, Litton Entertainment to Hearst, Magical Elves to Tinopolis, Jupiter to Sky and Left Bank Pictures to Sony. Historically, ACF’s deals have been in the range of $50 million to $2 billion.
When COVID hit, according to Dey, ACF had about 10 deals in progress — and “eight of them were instantly put on hold,” he says. That’s because the buyers “had considerable issues in their own businesses, where they were fighting fires and trying to work out what to do, and meanwhile, our clients — the sellers — were no longer confident of their pipeline or their production. So it was a complete seizing-up of the industry.”
Dey expected the flow of deals to completely halt given the pandemic, but he says companies and talent that didn’t rely on large productions or legacy businesses have still very much been in the market.
One of those was Netflix’s pact with Brooker and Jones, he says: “This was a deal that was not reliant on huge teams of people and the historic performance, but was very much a deal looking forward and working with two of the most talented people in the industry and really marrying them up with one of the most exciting digital platforms.”
Netflix has been paying top dollar to creators for such overall deals, and Dey argues that it’s worth the money. “Capturing the top talent in the market is always going to be a sure way of guaranteeing your future,” he says, “whereas being maybe more conservative with your investments means you might not be here.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.