Vin Di Bona Sells ‘AFV’ Production Franchise to Clarion Capital Partners, Teams With Venture 10 to Build Content Studio (EXCLUSIVE)

The producer will stay with ABC franchise, expand its development slate and help guide other acquisitions

AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS - 3201  Dont miss mischievous animals, including a squirrel that destroys outdoor patio furniture, a mask-stealing giraffe and a musical tribute to cats, as we celebrate the momentous 700th episode of Americas Funniest Home Videos. The season premiere airs SUNDAY, OCT. 3 (7:00-8:00 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty Images)
ABC via Getty Images

The house that “AFV” built is about to get a lot bigger.

Vin Di Bona, creator and executive producer of ABC’s enduring unscripted franchise “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” has sold a majority stake in Vin Di Bona Productions and Fishbowl Worldwide Media to a private investor group led by Clarion Capital Partners.

The transaction calls for Di Bona’s operation to be the cornerstone of a portfolio of content and production assets managed under the Venture 10 Studio Group umbrella, led by Hans Schiff, a longtime unscripted agent and alum of CAA and WME, and producer John Stevens. Clarion Capital, previously a key investor in IMAX, is prepared to take a big swing into the world of content production, starting with the Di Bona purchase. The transaction is believed to be valued in the nine-figure range given the value of the “AFV” library and Di Bona’s related businesses. The partners would not comment on financial terms.

Di Bona has been approached many times over the years to sell his profitable company. He tells Variety that the time was right for a transaction for three reasons. For one, his 79th birthday is approaching in April. For another, he’s energized by the chance to use the company he’s built over five decades as the foundation of a larger content studio. And equally important, his long association with Schiff and Stevens made him comfortable to take them and Clarion on as partners.

“At 78, soon to be 79, it’s really time to start estate planning and looking out for the future of my family,” Di Bona told Variety. “This was the right opportunity at the right time.”

With no small measure of pride, Di Bona added, “This really is a unicorn deal.” He noted that he maintains full control of the “AFV” universe, and he has carved out a lane that allows him to produce “outside the deal” should the opportunity arise. But his priority will be on helping to build up the Venture 10 group.

Vin Di Bona Getty Images

“Mostly I’m going to focus on building a larger machine so that we can take advantage of what we have in our quiver in terms of videos and projects,” Di Bona said. “I want to work with John and Hans to really expand and pick up companies and create new companies.”

Schiff previously represented Di Bona and his companies during his tenure as an unscripted agent with CAA. Schiff exited the agency in 2019 and teamed with Stevens to launch a production company and IP-focused development venture. The pair’s fledgling Venture 10 Studio Group will now be rolled up by Clarion Capital of the Di Bona transaction. Both companies and anticipated future acquisitions will be housed under the parent entity known as V10 Entertainment.

“We’re really going to go at it full force,” Di Bona said. “I would really like to find some young producers with great ideas who need to be financed. A lone producer can’t afford the time frame that it takes to get a project developed and bought and made. These are the kind of opportunities we’re looking at. This is an opportunity for me to do this kind of development with people who really understand the business.”

In Di Bona’s view, Schiff was a forward-thinking partner when he represented him as a CAA agent. Stevens worked with Di Bona nearly 15 years ago when the pair developed a project for Fox that never went the distance. But they both enjoyed the experience and kept in touch.

“We like each other and we like creating television,” Di Bona said of Schiff and Stevens. “I don’t think it gets better than that.”

John Stevens

Manhattan-based Clarion has previously invested in tech firms working on the edge of entertainment and advertising. But the arrangement with the Venture 10 partners and Di Bona is the start of a direct push into content.

“It was a natural segue for them, and they’ve been the best partners you could ask for,” Schiff said.

Stevens added, “This is truly a studio play. Vin’s not going anywhere. He’s still going to do what he does with his group, and he’s going to work with us on investments and acquisitions.”

In a statement, David Ragins, Clarion Capital managing director, called Di Bona “a true visionary who has built a legendary television and digital production company that has been a leader for decades.”

Clarion was founded in 1999 by Marc Utay, a Wasserstein Perella and Drexel Burnham Lambert alum. The company’s website states that it “looks to invest $15 to $75 million of equity in businesses generating greater than $7.5 million of EBITDA,” as either minority or majority investor. Earlier this month, Clarion unveiled the $750 million sale of its majority stake in the Madison Logic business software platform. Ragins’ statement confirms that the firm is intent on expanding directly into the content production sector, after previously focusing on production tech, cloud storage and IT-support related businesses.

“At Clarion we have built a thematic focus on video content that is effective in multiple channels including traditional TV, CTV and digital,” Ragins said. “Investing in Vin’s company is our first step in building a new leading platform in an industry known for its innovation and creativity.”

“AFV” is by far the driving force of earnings for Di Bona Productions, which has about 80 full-time staffers. In addition to producing 22 to 24 episodes of “AFV” each season, the company has a busy digital content and social media division that mines the ever-growing “AFV” clip library for short-form content. The company also does digital marketing and social media branding for outside clients. Di Bona, Schiff and Stevens declined to comment on the earnings multiple that Clarion is paying for Di Bona Prods. and Fishbowl Worldwide.

The transaction with Venture 10, Clarion and Di Bona Prods. came together relatively quickly over the past several months, spurred by the personal relationship among Di Bona, Schiff and Stevens. The Venture 10 pair can’t believe the fortunate timing of Di Bona’s availability.

“Our goal was to find a massive IP company that was ready to sell and to use that foundation to really grow. There aren’t many of those out there,” Stevens says. “‘AFV’ is the legacy company but people don’t realize how big Vin’s empire is.”

Hans Schiff

Di Bona Prods. And Fishbowl Media have steadily delivered original content to a host of digital platforms. Both were among the first established Hollywood-based banners to dive into content for YouTube, Yahoo and Hulu more than a decade ago.

Di Bona’s assets are highly valued because he has unusually expansive rights to the franchise that he has produced for 33 seasons and counting. Di Bona’s deal with ABC was struck in a different era of television, before FCC regulations affecting independent producers were relaxed in the 1990s.

Di Bona was a pioneer in the 1980s as an independent producer who licensed Japanese TV formats as the underlying inspiration for offbeat unscripted series.

In 1987, the producer cut a deal at ABC for the game show “Animal Crackups” that granted him 50% of key ownership, syndication and distribution rights. Two years later, when Di Bona brought ABC the special that would become “AFV,” the “Animal Crackups” license agreement template was copied over down to the last comma, as Di Bona recalled. Those 50-50 terms have been worth tens of millions of dollars to the producer on a show that plays endlessly around the world.

But Di Bona is nearly the last of a breed. Within a few years of launching “AFV” in late 1989, the kind of 50-50 deal he struck with ABC would all but disappear. After years of lobbying by ABC, CBS and NBC, the FCC began to relax Nixon-era media ownership regulations that had kept the Big Three networks from owning most of the scripted series that they carried. The end of the FCC’s so-called financial interest in syndication rule was the Clinton-era reform that made it feasible for the Walt Disney Co. to buy ABC in 1996.

Before “AFV,” Di Bona was an early producer of “Entertainment Tonight” and he produced the original 1985 pilot for “MacGyver” for ABC and Henry Winkler/John Rich Productions. Earlier in his career, Di Bona produced and directed local news and documentaries, including an acclaimed series of local-color docu specials for CBS’ Los Angeles O&O. He is highly regarded in TV production circles for his long run with “AFV,” and for his work with a range of industry organizations, including the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors, his alma mater Emerson College and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

After more than 30 seasons and 700 episodes, the “AFV” rights issues are complicated between Di Bona and Disney, but the fundamental principle that Di Bona has a half-interest in the show hasn’t changed. By the standard of the past 25 years, that level of ownership and control in a successful primetime series is virtually unheard of.

“They own the trademark; we own the show,” Di Bona says. “It’s a 50-50 partnership. That partnership is part of the success and the survival of the show.”

Di Bona Prods. was represented in the Clarion/Venture 10 transaction by Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein, Lezcano, Bobb & Dang, and Loeb & Loeb LLP. Clarion was represented by Paul Hastings LLP. Venture 10 was represented by Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, LLP, Salem Partners and White Zuckerman Warsavsky Luna & Hunt.

VIP+ Analysis: Notable Production Company Investments