The deal, if approved, would mark a shift in the Hollywood agency landscape, reducing the Big Four agencies to the Big Three, with WME and UTA as CAA’s largest competitors.
Financial details were not confirmed but it’s understood that the deal is almost entirely equity-based, meaning that no cash is changing hands. Sources close to the situation said that making sure ICM’s key leaders were invested in the long-term success of the combination rather than securing a big cash out was significant to helping the deal come together.
The agreement unveiled on Monday morning is the largest talent agency transaction since WME acquired IMG in 2014 and since Endeavor joined forces with William Morris Agency in 2009, which forged the contemporary WME.
The prospect of CAA and ICM combining would bring the latter’s TV literary department, publishing and music strength to CAA. ICM in recent months has bolstered its operations in sports, where CAA already has a big footprint, and it also adds to CAA’s work with broadcast TV news anchors and hosts.
“Today’s storytellers, athletes, thought-leaders, and trend-setters who can move, inspire, and attract large, global audiences have unprecedented opportunity and ability to achieve their goals and aspirations,” said CAA’s managing trio of Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett in a statement. “The strategic combination of CAA and ICM bolsters our collective resources, expertise, and relationships to deliver even more opportunities for our world-class clients to build their careers and their brands across multiple disciplines and platforms in an evolving marketplace. Our strong financial position enables us to continue to expand and diversify our businesses, with service and representation remaining central to what we do and who we are. We’re fortunate to have a partner in ICM who shares our commitment to the widest and most inclusive vision possible for what our clients and company can accomplish together.”
Many details of the transaction remain to be revealed, including how ICM’s senior managers will fit in the CAA picture. ICM Partners chief Chris Silbermann will join CAA’s shareholder board. There’s also no word yet on financial details of the deal.
“We’re thrilled to partner and combine forces with the talented CAA team,” said Silbermann. “Together, we will build upon our accomplishments and entrepreneurial spirit, and continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the best interests of our clients, as well as empowering new, diverse voices within the industry.”
Industry sources immediately questioned whether the consolidation would draw anti-trust scrutiny from federal regulators.
Consolidation among Hollywood’s largest talent agencies is not a surprise. UTA came close to acquiring Paradigm two years ago for $250 million. But that was before the pandemic battered the smaller agency, which has since offloaded its most lucrative music division to Casey Wasserman.
Agencies the size and scale of CAA and WME have direct access to top talent, but the vertically integrated network and studio operations are nonetheless so large and global in the scope of their spending that big agencies are feeling the squeeze. Massive structural changes in the nature of TV and movie production, and the Writers Guild of America’s successful campaign to wipe out packaging fees has also put a crimp on agency bottom lines.
CAA and ICM have expressed a similar ethos in recent years about keeping a tight focus on talent representation matters rather than expanding into new businesses and teaming in a bigger way on projects and business development with clients. CAA was the first of the large Hollywood agencies to branch out into corporate marketing and other areas of activity outside of the core Hollywood movie and TV business in the 1990s. But in recent years, CAA’s focus has honed to entertainment and sports, fueled by private equity investment from the company that is now CAA’s majority shareholder, TPG.
ICM Partners had had its own journey through private equity ownership. ICM acquired the powerhouse lit agency Broder Kurland Chervin Silbermann in 2006 with financing from Rizvi Traverse Management. By 2012, Silbermann had wrested control of ICM after winning an internal management battle and a clutch of ICM leaders bought out Rizvi Traverse, turning it into a management-owned agency. In 2019, ICM Partners received an equity investment from Crestview Partners.
CAA and ICM were formed the same year, in 1975, amid another period of turmoil in the agency arena. International Creative Management was formed out of the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency. CAA was launched by Mike Ovitz, Ron Meyer and a handful of other William Morris Agency reps who famously opted to plant their own flag.