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The global economy might be on the brink of shambles, but the celebrity-entertainment industrial complex shows no sign of slowing down. Big stars, who have already amassed fame and fortune in front of the camera, are increasingly securing generational wealth for their work behind the camera.
The latest move comes courtesy of Plan B Entertainment, the production company owned by actor Brad Pitt, which has been sold to French media conglomerate Mediawan, the companies announced Friday afternoon.
Mediawan said that it has acquired a majority stake in Plan B in a deal that reportedly values the studio in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. Pitt will retain a minority stake in the firm, which was behind films like She Said and Moonlight and TV shows like The Underground Railroad and The OA. Mediawan backers KKR, Atwater Capital, Bpifrance, MACSF, and Société Générale all contributed to the financing of the new deal.
The production company is run by Pitt as well as presidents Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner.
Plan B was founded in 2001 by Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who were married at the time, as well as his manager Brad Grey. Pitt became sole owner of the company after he and Aniston divorced in 2005. Grey, who led Paramount Pictures after his run at Plan B, died in 2017.
Mediawan was founded in 2015 by French telecom billionaire Xavier Niel, investment banker Matthieu Pigasse and producer Pierre-Antoine Capton, with the goal of rolling up various production and entertainment entities, pursuing a similar strategy to that of Candle Media in the U.S.
And like Candle Media, Mediawan is looking to celebrity-backed production companies as acquisition targets, with Plan B marking a strategic expansion in the U.S.
“This partnership will allow us to create a unique artistic link between Europe and the United States through which we and Plan B will develop premium independent content, providing a global platform on which the world’s greatest talent can continue to thrive,” Capton said in a statement. Mediawan is launching a new U.S. subsidiary in conjunction with the deal.
Candle Media acquired Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, as well as a minority stake in Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Westbrook Entertainment.
Other players in the space include Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital, which holds stakes in LeBron James’ SpringHill, and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Artists Equity, and Peter Chernin’s North Road.
All are looking to celebrity-driven enterprises as a sort of hedge against the entertainment oligopolies, with access to consumers increasingly consolidating with a few studios who also happen to own their own distribution platforms (Netflix, Disney, Apple, Paramount, etc).
The bet is that when it comes to A-list talent, every studio will still want a shot at the project, in turning leading to better economics for the stars and their own studios.
Affleck said as much at The New York Times Dealbook Summit Nov. 30, when asked about the decision to partner with RedBird on Artists Equity, which will release three projects in 2023 and aims to scale up to five annually.
“[Artists] are the people who principally create value on the sales side and on the bodies, the eyeballs side. These artists who have worked their entire careers, like my wife [Jennifer Lopez], building a name, a reputation, a connection with fans that has real value. And oftentimes, that value isn’t reflected in the deals that are made,” Affleck said. “So what I did, and what Gerry really understood, was to embrace that structure so that [deals can be based on ] whatever the market bears, we want to be able to enjoy competition, we will Adam Smith this thing to death.”
“We’re going to say to whoever wants [to work with us is] you have to disconnect from the idea, ‘what does it cost? What’s your rate?’ I don’t go into the Apple store and say, ‘how much did you pay to make this, be honest,’ and then tell them what I’ll pay based on what it cost,” Affleck added.
“It was much more of an entrepreneurial, founder conversation about how do we build a term value business that takes advantage of the technology disintermediation that’s going on in content monetization, and create the next new thing,” Cardinale added of the talks with Affleck and Damon.
And already the strategy appears to be paying dividends. Artists Equity already has projects lined up at Apple and Amazon, while Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has projects at Disney, Apple, and Netflix, among others.
Now Pitt, and Mediawan, bet that they can pull off a similar maneuver.
“As we enter the next chapter in our evolution, we are excited at the possibilities this partnership affords as we maximize our reach toward an increasingly global audience with a broad range of films and television series across all platforms, genres, and mediums,” Pitt, Kleiner and Gardner said in a statement. “For our current partner studios, along with those we look forward to working with in the future, we pledge to continue producing new content for audiences everywhere. With the innovative, artistic and producer-centric platform Mediawan has built, we open a window to an even greater number of storytellers, both established masters and the emerging voices that have always excited us.”
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