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The year is almost over, but there is still more M&A to be done from one of the top talent agencies.
UTA is acquiring the media, entertainment and technology strategic advisory firm MediaLink, with its founder and CEO Michael Kassan set to become a partner at UTA. Kassan will remain CEO of MediaLink, which will bring its 150+ employees to the agency through the deal.
UTA acquired MediaLink from U.K.-based Ascential PLC for $125 million in cash, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. MediaLink will continue to be involved in the Cannes Lion festival, which Ascential also owns.
UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer told The Hollywood Reporter that the “timing was right” for a deal, particularly with UTA looking to grow its brand-facing business.
“We have been looking at opportunities to continue to grow, and it was clear to me that with everything going on in our business, which has been for so long funded by brands, and with streaming becoming such a powerful piece of the pie, brands have been somewhat disintermediated from premium content,” Zimmer said. “So I felt that there was an opportunity there to work with brands in a different way.”
As part of the acquisition, UTA will rename its UTA Marketing division as UTA Entertainment & Culture Marketing, and fold it into MediaLink. UTA Marketing’s co-heads, David Anderson and Julian Jacobs, will join Kassan’s executive team, and will continue that division’s focus on the intersection of brands, marketing and the creative community.
“We have described MediaLink forever as an enterprise that sits at an intersection. And that intersection is marketing, media, advertising, entertainment and technology,” Kassan told THR. “Needless to say, we could now double click in the entertainment space more than we ever could have imagined. What UTA has built across the ecosystem with gaming and sports and music and talent is going to be a massive opportunity for us to tap into the brands and technology companies that we represent.”
While not a household name like McKinsey, MediaLink has quietly become one of the most powerful boutique consulting firms in the entertainment and media industries, working with brands, high-profile tech firms, and 7 of the top 10 global media companies.
In fact, Kassan says that when he was first conceptualizing the company, he considered partnering with UTA.
“Jeremy and I have been friends for more than 20 years, and when I started MediaLink one of the places I sat and talked about doing this together with was UTA, 17 or 18 years ago,” Kassn said. “For both of us, it is kind of a full circle that we’re going to do this now.”
The deal caps off what has been a banner year for M&A in the talent agency business.
WME owner Endeavor went public in the spring and simultaneously took complete ownership of UFC. It has subsequently purchased the OpenBet sports betting firm, and launched a subsidiary that will own and operate minor league baseball teams.
CAA, meanwhile, announced a deal to acquire ICM Partners, further consolidating the agency space. That deal spurred on Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel to say his company was not interested in buying UTA, with Zimmer jokingly responding that his company was too profitable for Endeavor to buy.
While UTA has avoided the megadeals that some of its competitors have pursued, it did launch a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that raised over $200 million in an IPO, and is seeking to merge with a private company in the gaming or creator economy space.
That being said, UTA will continue to be opportunistic.
“We are active in the market trying to grow both with our own talent, and have our eyes on complementary companies and opportunities at all times,” Zimmer says.
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