Creative Artists Agency acquires ICM Partners in historic agreement

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The Century City-based creative artists agency said Monday it is acquiring ICM Partners for an undisclosed price, in a deal that could transform Hollywood’s talent agency industry.

The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approval, would reduce the number of top-tier agencies to three dominant players: CAA, WME and United Talent Agency. ICM is the fourth largest talent company.

The sale would give CAA and ICM the size and scale to better compete with the Beverly Hills entertainment juggernaut Endeavor, which was created in 2009 by the revolutionary merger with the William Morris agency and has grown by leaps and bounds.

“It’s sure to change everything in Hollywood,” said Tom Nunan, a professor at UCLA’s School of Drama, Film and Television, of the acquisition. “This is asking the question: is bigger necessarily better?

The deal gives CAA access to a lucrative publishing business and major ICM clients, including “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes, actor Samuel L. Jackson, director Spike Lee and Ellen. DeGeneres.

CAA already represents top talent, including showrunner Ryan Murphy, actors Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hanks, as well as musical artists such as Ariana Grande.

Once the deal is done later this year, all of those customers are expected to be CAA branded.

“We believe that the combined efforts, energies and resources here enhance opportunities for clients across the board,” CAA Co-Chair Richard Lovett said in an interview. For example, London-based sports representation agency ICM Stellar Sports will help CAA expand its roster internationally, Lovett said.

CAA’s purchase of smaller ICM partners comes against a backdrop of broader consolidation in the entertainment industry, as media companies expand their offerings of film and TV content for streaming services. The move to streaming has led to an explosion in demand for content.

“What is happening now is another seismic shift in the industry,” said Stephen Galloway, dean of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University. “Whenever one giant part of the industry changes, another part of the industry inevitably changes too.”

The talent representation industry is also changing dramatically, as industry priorities shift. While movie stars and top directors were once the kings of Hollywood talent, the power has shifted to writer-producers and showrunners who can strike nine-figure deals with media companies and streaming services. .

ICM, for example, represents mega-producers like Rhimes, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan and “The Handmaid’s Tale” creator Bruce Miller.

“They buy human capital, and they buy assets that have relationships, and that’s the motto in Hollywood,” said Eric Schiffer, president of the Patriarch Organization, an Orange County consultancy firm.

Talent agencies are also under significant pressure, as COVID-19 has delayed or canceled Hollywood productions, live events and concerts, leading companies to lay off workers.

The agencies also lost a deadly battle with the Writers Guild of America, whose members fired their agents for alleged packaging costs and affiliated production companies, which the authors said were conflicts of interest. Major agencies have agreed to phase out packaging, which had been a major money generator, by June 30, 2022. To comply with the deal, CAA recently reduced its stake in the Hollywood production company Wiip at around 20%.

The purchase of CAA is a potentially powerful statement for Hollywood and the agency industry. Endeavor, owner of Ultimate Fighting Championship, held an initial public offering of shares earlier this year, raising more than $ 500 million and further raising the status of super-agents Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell. CAA, backed by private equity firm TPG, could expand in preparation for its own IPO, analysts said.

While Endeavor has grown by expanding into businesses such as MMA and professional riding, CAA has remained primarily focused on the old-fashioned representation industry, which may allow investors to better to position yourself.

The acquisition is also a signal for studios, which have occasionally clashed with actors and other talent over how creators and A-listers should be paid as the business model changes.

CAA client Scarlett Johansson sued Disney in July, claiming the studio cut her off box office bonuses by putting her movie “Black Widow” on Disney + for $ 30 alongside its theatrical release. .

Bryan Lourd vocally hit back at Disney after the company released a dazzling statement in response to Johansson’s lawsuit. From now on, Lourd will carry more weight as deal-making continues to move.

“If you want to fight Scarlett Johansson, you’ve got a lot more people against you,” Galloway said.

It remains to be seen whether the combined agencies will provide more personalized services and opportunities to their clients.

Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, says the merger will contribute to more “sameness” and the corporatization of Hollywood.

“Which agent is going to want to spend the lion’s share of their time scrambling to get a little film directed by an independent, quirky and interesting artist?” He asked.

Industry insiders say they expect the acquisition to lead to staff cuts, although Lovett said it was too early to discuss it.

“Once all the legal work is done and we get the approval (…) to start really bringing the companies together, we can better manage it all,” Lovett said.

The performers union SAG-AFTRA said it would monitor the deal.

“We will carefully review this combination of two historic talent agencies to ensure that performers benefit from the deal and are not disadvantaged by it,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree -Ireland, in a statement.

CAA had held exploratory talks in 2019 to buy Paradigm Talent Agency, according to a person familiar with the matter. At the time, Paradigm denied being interested in the sale. The Beverly Hills-based agency then sold its live music business in North America to sports marketing and talent management firm Casey Wasserman.

The agency activity continues to consolidate with the plan to purchase ICM by CAA. After the transaction closes, ICM Partners Managing Director Chris Silbermann will join CAA’s Board of Directors.

“We are just focusing on the best platform for our customers,” Silbermann said in an interview. “It really is a new generation customer first company. “

Founded in 1975, International Creative Management has grown into one of the industry’s premier talent agencies. Silbermann joined ICM in 2006 with the acquisition of Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, where he was the youngest partner and forged a reputation as a sharp and ambitious agent.

In 2012, Century City rebranded itself as ICM Partners after Silbermann led the charge to partner it up, with agents buying out private equity investor Rizvi Traverse Management.

In 2019, the company secured funding from Crestview Partners – selling a stake for around $ 150 million – and began an expansion campaign. Last year, ICM bought out Stellar Group, making it a major player in sports representation, acquired the live music booking agency Primary Talent International and took a minority stake in Swedish company Albatros Agency.

ICM Partners had recently come under scrutiny after many former employees described the mistreatment of their managers to the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper’s investigation brought to light numerous allegations of harassment and other misconduct against women by several male officers and executives.

ICM confirmed in July that former top ICM agent Steve Alexander, who was among several men featured in the story, had left the agency for undisclosed reasons. Alexander has denied an allegation that he exposed himself to a financial director for the film.

The ICM has stated that it “does not tolerate harassment, intimidation or any other inappropriate conduct. HR investigates all reports received and deals with each one with appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Times editors Meg James and Stacy Perman contributed to this report.


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