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ITV Acquires U.K. Indie, 'Shaun of the Dead' Producer Big Talk

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UPDATED: The deal for the TV and film firm, in which Simon Pegg owns a stake and which is also behind his latest movie "The World's End," is the British TV network group's latest acquisition.

LONDON – ITV said Friday that it has acquired U.K. TV and film producer Big Talk in a deal worth $19.3 million-plus.

It is the British TV networks group's latest acquisition of a production firm after recent purchases of U.S., U.K. and other European producers. The deals are designed to make ITV less reliant on TV advertising revenue.

Big Talk is known for such TV shows as Friday Night Dinner, Him & Her and Rev, as well as such films as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, which is currently in U.K. movie theaters and will open in the U.S. on Aug. 23. Its strength are in the comedy and horror genres, with the ITV deal expected to help it bring its shows to North America.

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Writers and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and actor Edgar Wright, who all collaborated on Shaun, Hot Fuzz and World's End, own stakes in Big Talk. They are part of a group that owns 10 percent of the company. BBC Worldwide owns a 25 percent stake that it acquired five years ago for £1.6 million, but has been looking to sell it. The deal will bring in at least roughly twice that much for BBC Worldwide. Big Talk's three main executives share the other 65 percent stake in the production firm.

ITV said it has acquired 100 percent of Big Talk and associated companies for an initial cash consideration that will be dependent on the 2012/2013 financial performance, but is expected to be in the region of $19.3 million (£12.5 million).

"The further capped cash payments are payable on the delivery of significant profit growth over the next five years," ITV said. "The multiple paid is similar to the range paid on our previous acquisitions." Sources said the deal could be worth around $46 million (£30 million) if the company continues to do well.

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Big Talk was founded by joint CEO and producer Nira Park in 1995. Joint CEO and producer Kenton Allen, a former creative head of BBC Comedy and former creative executive at Shine, joined the company in 2008. Industry veteran Matthew Justice serves as managing director of the company.

ITV said the Big Talk management team will remain in place.

Big Talk will continue to produce TV programming via its Big Talk Productions arm and movies via its Pictures unit. Industry observers said the deal will give ITV access to a strong content producer that also has access to key U.K. talent.

Plus, Big Talk has been spending time on developing some of its shows for the U.S. market, which could add a new revenue stream. A U.S. remake of its sitcom Free Agents aired on NBC before being canceled after a few episodes. It starred Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as newly single co-workers at an ad agency.

Currently, Him & Her, a comedy about a working-class couple in their 20s, is in development at FX, comedy Rev, about a priest who leaves a small rural parish to become the vicar of an inner-city London church, has been in development at ABC, and MTV UK hit Threesome, about a straight couple and their gay roommate, is in development at Sony for NBC.
 
Rights to Friday Night Dinner, a sitcom focused on the regular Friday dinner practice of an unorthodox Jewish family that starred The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird in the U.K. version, are back with Big Talk following an NBC pilot. "We will take that back out again at some stage," Allen told THR.

Leveraging ITV Studios' ability to get shows into North America "will be a huge focus going forward" for Big Talk, he said. "They have the resources and are very hungry and aggressive."

BBC Worldwide will retain the global distribution rights to Big Talk’s back catalog and future U.K. programming based on those shows. ITV Studios Global Entertainment will distribute all new Big Talk shows.

In addition to helping Big Talk take more of its show formats to North America, the firm is also looking at doing original show projects with U.S. co-production partners.

ITV's recent shopping spree has given it stakes in or full control of Duck Dynasty producer Gurney, talk show star Graham Norton's So Television, Cake Boss maker High Noon Entertainment and Hatfields & McCoys producer Thinkfactory.

"Building a strong international content business lies at the very heart of our transformation plan, and the acquisition of Big Talk represents another important milestone as we continue to grow our production base and invest in creative talent," said ITV CEO Adam Crozier. "Big Talk has an incredibly talented team, led by Kenton, Matthew and Nira, and has developed strong relationships with directors, producers, writers and performers, including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright."

Kevin Lygo, managing director of ITV Studios who has worked with the Big Talk team in the past, said: "Great comedy is an important part of the genre mix for broadcasters around the world, and it’s fantastic that Big Talk is joining us."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai