The pact with U.K. analytics firm Ascential calls for MediaLink to become a wholly owned entity of the agency. MediaLink will retain its name and management team, led by founder and CEO Michael Kassan, and operate as “a UTA company.” Kassan, who founded MediaLink in 2003, will become an agency partner.
MediaLink’s 150-plus employees in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and London are set to make the move over to UTA. The existing UTA Marketing department will become a unit of MediaLink, renamed UTA Entertainment & Culture Marketing. UTA Marketing co-heads David Anderson and Julian Jacobs will be part of the executive leadership team at MediaLink.
UTA’s move to bolster its corporate consulting activities comes at a time transformation for Hollywood’s major talent agencies. Endeavor, parent company of WME, went public earlier this year. CAA is in the process of acquiring ICM Partners. The top agencies are preparing for a sea change as traditional TV packaging deals built around showrunners and writers will soon be banned per the terms of a new agency franchise terms imposed by the Writers Guild of America, starting next year.
UTA emphasized “no job losses are anticipated” because of the deal.
UTA paid cash for the company that London-based Ascential acquired in February 2017. Ascential made an initial cash payment of $69 million, in addition to earnouts paid through February of this year that were worth up to $138 million more, according to the 2017 deal terms.
The move to UTA is attractive to MediaLink because of the latter’s heavy focus on media and entertainment giants. At a time of M&A mania, Kassan said there is no shortage of demand for deep analytic dives on business structure, management teams and long-term business plans. Kassan and UTA chief executive Jeremy Zimmer told Variety the companies are also a good fit because of the advisory services that UTA is increasingly offering its multi-hyphenate clients who are embarking on all manner of cutting-edge business ventures.
“MediaLink works at a certain intersection in the market of marketing, media, advertising, entertainment and technology,” Kassan told Variety. “The opportunity to be part of the UTA family, particularly at this moment in time, allows us to do more on the entertainment side and work in areas we didn’t have before, in gaming, sports and music. Doing that with Jeremy and his team is a massive advantage to deepen our understanding as we look at technology and entertainment. UTA’s also got the passion for growth that we have.”
The first stirrings of conversation between UTA and MediaLink came when Kassan and Zimmer met for drinks last May. Talks gained steam in the fall.
“We’re in an unprecedented time in the overall media business,” Zimmer said. “All of the these companies are looking for help to try to have the broadest view, the best ideas, the most expertise on how to navigate where they’re going to move.”
Zimmer noted that MediaLink’s market research would inevitably help UTA clients just as the emerging “creator economy” is thriving amid eye-popping levels of investment in content from media and tech giants.
“We’re looking at how artists are thinking about how they want their work shown,” Zimmer said. “There’s a lot of information and insights we’ll be sharing.”
MediaLink has an interesting view on disruption and the direct-to-consumer pivot in Hollywood thanks to its work with clients like AT&T and financial service institutions on marketing expenditures, advertising operations and the technology infrastructure that power large companies.
One of the biggest requests for corporate structure analysis is evaluating how much of the work of media buying, marketing, advertising and technology should be brought in-house — a telling sign of disruption, Kassan noted. MediaLink also has a “robust executive search practice that does a lot of benchmarking of talent” for blue-chip firms, he said.
The union with MediaLink caps a busy year of dealmaking at UTA. The CAA-ICM Partners deal heightened speculation about UTA inevitably being part of an agency mega-merger. But for now UTA has revved up activity on a number of fronts. It launched a $200 million SPAC launched earlier this month to pursue business opportunities in video gaming, game content and related technologies. UTA has also ventured in the NFT marketplace, and it is increasingly pursuing representation deals with nontraditional clients in digital and crypto-art related arenas.
Zimmer emphasized that UTA sees MediaLink as a huge building block in an area where UTA has excelled since its earliest days 30 years ago. MediaLink is a growth vehicle for UTA.
“I think we can expand the definition of entertainment marketing and make it much bigger and broader,” Zimmer said. “It’s steadily growing, a really great business for us. MediaLink is going to super-charge that business.”
UTA was advised in the deal by Skadden Arps and PWC. Michael Kassan was repped by Michelman & Robinson.