Hollywood's Top 20 Dealmakers of 2016

6:25 AM 1/9/2017

by Paul Bond, Ashley Cullins, Eriq Gardner, and Georg Szalai

The lawyers, bankers and advisers behind the industry's major corporate courtships share the negotiating secrets of a $150 billion year in deals from selling Time Warner to buying UFC.

Laurene Powell Jobs, Jesse Jacobs and Stephen Saltzman_Split - H 2017

From the presidential election to the surge in celebrity deaths, 2016 was a year many were happy to see end. But for Hollywood's upper echelon of bankers, lawyers and business development executives, it was a Dealapalooza.

AT&T made a massive $85.4 billion play for Time Warner, Lionsgate swallowed up Starz for $4.4 billion, WME-IMG and partners paid $4 billion for the UFC league, and NBCUniversal grabbed DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion.

The value of dealmaking activity in the entertainment industry hit a record $150.2 billion, according to M&A tracking firm Mergermarket.

"Values have been extremely high, with a fair share of mega-deals of $1 billion-plus," notes PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Bart Spiegel. "Anybody sitting on the sidelines is going to find themselves falling behind."

What's behind the consolidation wave? "The main driver is digitization, the popularity of digital services and streaming," Elizabeth Lim, senior M&A analyst for Mergermarket, tells THR. "There is a market share grab going on. The second major driver is content. Content is key, and with streaming services it's available all the time. It's about what they say is the second golden age of television. It's really competitive, and the big companies with the big bucks are leading the pack."

What does that mean for 2017? Analysts point to China flexing its financial muscle even further, if the Trump administration allows it, following Dalian Wanda snapping up Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion and Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion, and Alibaba promising to spend billions more. And 21st Century Fox's $14.6 billion deal for European pay TV giant Sky could signal that consolidation will continue.

"Given a likely continued emphasis on scale, I wouldn't be surprised by an extended wave of consolidation into 2017," says CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi. "Although it's hard to imagine that the pace of M&A activity would approach what we have witnessed."

Lim also says, "I don't really see deal activity slowing down immediately." But she suggests companies looking to buy may want to strike before interest rates rise further, which drives up the cost of borrowing.

The value of announced U.S. entertainment industry mergers and acquisitions for 2016 through Dec. 27 reached $150.2 billion, up sharply from $33.0 billion for all of 2015 and $14.5 billion for 2014, according to Mergermarket. It is the highest mark it has recorded since it started compiling that data in 2001.

THR broke down the biggest deals of 2016 to find the 20 dealmakers of the year.

  • Aryeh Bourkoff

    In 2012, the analyst turned banker left UBS after 13 years to launch an investment and merchant banking firm with fellow UBS alum Ehren Stenzler. It since has worked on more than $300 billion in transactions, making it the No. 1 U.S. and No. 2 global technology/media/telecommunications boutique in 2015, as ranked by Dealogic. In 2016, LionTree advised Viacom on its capital structure, Verizon on its Yahoo purchase, Starz on its sale to Lionsgate, Charter on its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House, and Group Nine Media on its investment by Discovery.

    How do you generate big ideas?

    "It all mirrors the companies that we work with," says Bourkoff. "LionTree is part of the industry."

  • Brett Bouttier

    The digital media company's president helped orchestrate its sale to DreamWorks Animation for $33 million in 2013. Now it's worth $650 million after Verizon bought a minority stake in April, a deal Bouttier drove for ATV. "We all share a vision for a next-generation media brand and network that can live in an on-demand world," says Bouttier, who once was general manager of TMZ. He also points to ATV's July sales and production deal with U.K.-based ITV as a milestone for international growth.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "By taking a nap."

  • John Burke and Marissa Roman Griffith

    A go-to conduit between money and content, attorney Burke represented CIT Bank in one of the largest independent film financings ever for Luc Besson's $180 million sci-fi epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. His partner Roman Griffith advises Media Rights Capital, including on its co-financing deal for Sony's Stephen King adaptation The Dark Tower. And they're both representing a Chinese client investing in a TV slate with prominent producers, which Burke hopes will launch others. "The business is getting more and more complex, and that plays into our sweet spot," he says.

    Do you have a lucky charm?

    BURKE "Yes, but the aliens that bestowed my gift will take it back if revealed."

  • Joseph Calabrese and Christopher Brearton

    Calabrese, who leads his law firm's entertainment group, started 2016 by sealing Wanda's $3.5 billion acquisition of client Legendary Entertainment. He then advised BeIN Media Group in its acquisition of Miramax. "It's nice to look back at these watershed deals," says Calabrese, who is celebrating 35 years in the business. Brearton advised Univision in its $135 million purchase of Gawker Media, represented AMC Networks in its investment in Funny or Die, and represented the NCAA in an $8.8 billion extension of CBS' and Turner's rights to broadcast the NCAA tournament.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    CALABRESE "Making room on my desk for the next one."

  • Lindsay Conner

    Attorney Conner, a China expert, closed "three first-ever deals this year." He represented Perfect World Pictures in its $500 million, 50-film co-finance deal with Universal, which was the first direct Chinese investment in a major studio's slate. Conner also advised Tang Media Partners in a joint venture with Tencent and IM Global to create a new TV production company, and he represented Sony Pictures in the first slate deal in virtual reality with Reality One.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "I take my wife, Sarah, out to a celebratory dinner."

  • Stuart Epstein, Rick Hess and Robert Stanley

    Helped by its cozy relationship with part-owner CAA, Evolution has advised on more than $44 billion in transactions for clients since 2008, many of which are sports-related. In 2016, they helped real estate tycoon Meyer Orbach buy into the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves for a price that valued the team at $1 billion. The trio also helped the soccer league CONCACAF pact with Fox Sports for English-language rights in the U.S. for the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cups.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    EPSTEIN "We start to focus on when the next deal is going to close … and maybe have a glass of wine or two."

  • Joshua Grode

    In addition to leading Wanda to its 10-figure acquisition of Legendary, which Grode describes as "five deals in one," he is representing Bank of America in a pact with Endemol that essentially is a TV distribution agreement securitization. "We figured out a way to monetize their distribution agreements for the shows they own," he says. "Once everyone understands what we did, other companies should be running [to do it]."

  • David Hernand

    In the two years since attorney Hernand moved to Paul Hastings, he has represented Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Productions in its $1 billion sale to Wanda and repped DreamWorks Animation in selling a 24.5 percent stake of AwesomenessTV to Verizon. Like many, Hernand is focusing on China with such deals as 2015's joint venture between China Media Capital and Warner Bros. to produce Chinese-language films.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "I take my team to dinner. After the Dick Clark deal, we went to Drago Centro."

  • Erik Hodge

    Hodge leads the L.A. office of the merchant bank launched in 2009 by former Goldman Sachs' Joe Ravitch and UBS' Jeff Sine. His major Hollywood deals of 2016 include Raine's investment in Imagine Entertainment and advising Universal on its multiyear film slate financing deal with China's Perfect World Pictures. He also helped STX Entertainment on investments from China's Tencent and Hong Kong telecom PCCW.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "I call my travel agent and try to book a surf trip."

  • Jesse Jacobs

    The vision that former banker Jacobs and longtime Hollywood executive Peter Chernin had two years ago to build and acquire digital media brands is starting to bear fruit. In 2016, Jacobs spearheaded an investment in Van Toffler's digital studio Gunpowder & Sky, teamed with Reese Witherspoon on female-driven company Hello Sunshine and acquired a majority stake in online publisher Barstool Sports.

    My negotiation superstition

    "Just don't talk about it. The more you talk about it, the less likely it'll happen."

  • Laurene Powell Jobs

    The widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs went Hollywood in September when her investment shingle took a significant minority stake in Anonymous Content, the management/production company behind Spotlight and Mr. Robot. Powell Jobs said at the time the deal was about furthering her belief "in the power of storytelling to shape our culture and improve lives." So far, her entertainment deals — which also include a lead investment in Charles King's multicultural media firm — align with Emerson's larger mission around social justice. Outside Hollywood, Emerson focuses on education, immigration reform and the environment.

  • Wayne Levin

    The La La Land studio's chief strategic officer and general counsel played a key role in the most transformative deal in its history: its $4.4 billion acquisition of Starz. He says the merger was a true team effort, and it will allow two top content companies to fully capitalize on the digital revolution. "When you look at the industry today, what you see is a major trend toward consolidation," he says.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "Good glass of wine, a Hunger Games movie and deep sleep."

  • Jason Lublin

    The sports and entertainment firm has been snapping up properties left and right — 15 since WME acquired IMG in 2013, including The Miss Universe Organization, purchased from former client Donald Trump. As global COO, Lublin has fingerprints on most of those transactions. "Our goal is to find assets that are a good strategic fit and to provide our clients and partners with additional opportunities to leverage their businesses and brands," says Lublin, an accountant who joined Endeavor in 2007, two years before it merged with William Morris and began its growth spurt. In 2016, WME-IMG invested in Frieze, giving it a stake in prestigious art fairs, and, most significantly, it led a group that paid $4 billion for UFC, giving WME-IMG control of the growing league. Notes Lublin, "We represented UFC for over a decade, negotiating their media deals and witnessing first-hand their global growth."

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "Generally we are already thinking ahead and quickly put our heads back down to focus on the next endeavor."

  • Mickey Mayerson and Susan Zuckerman Williams

    Mayerson is one of the best-known lawyers for finding banks and high-net-worth individuals to help filmmakers realize dream projects, as he did for Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply and Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead. With 25 years of industry experience, Williams has handled about $2 billion in complex film finance and slate deals in recent years (she's now helping Wes Anderson continue his partnership with Indian Paintbrush on another stop-motion animated film). They predict the next frontier will be equity investors taking stakes in TV production.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    MAYERSON "I sleep."

  • Skip Paul

    The power broker and video gaming pioneer joined the New York investment bank in 2010 to help push it into Hollywood. In 2016, the firm served as financial adviser to DreamWorks Animation in its sale to NBCUniversal. Centerview also was a strategic adviser to Time Warner Cable on its sale to Charter Communications. Paul's résumé includes companies Atari, MCA, Sega GameWorks — which he co-founded with Steven Spielberg — and early online video site iFilm.

  • Stephen Saltzman

    Between June 1 and Labor Day, Saltzman took a half-dozen trips to China, spending more time there than at his home in Los Angeles. He has emerged as a key adviser for Chinese companies looking at Hollywood investments. In 2016, he helped Huayi Brothers Media create a $260 million joint venture with Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers who direct Marvel movies. He also represented Zhejiang Tangde in a $60 million deal with Talpa Global for seasons five to eight of The Voice of China.

  • Faiza Saeed

    In July, Saeed became the first woman in the nearly 200-year history of her Wall Street law firm to lead it as a presiding partner. A few months later, she rocked the media industry when it was revealed client Time Warner would be acquired for $85 billion by AT&T (pending government approval). The Harvard Law School grad also advised on DreamWorks Animation's $3.8 billion sale to NBCUniversal and Yahoo's $4.8 billion sale to Verizon.

  • Stephen Scharf, Matthew Erramouspe and Bruce Tobey

    When it comes to the expanding Chinese footprints in Hollywood, few dealmakers have been as involved as the three partners leading O'Melveny's entertainment transaction practice. With clients including e-commerce giant Alibaba and Legendary Entertainment, the trio has secured deals worth multiple billions involving slate film financing and the capitalization of new ventures.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    SCHARF "Usually at closing, I'll bring wine from my winery [Cardinal Rule Wines]."

  • Matthew Thompson

    Attorney Thompson represents one of the most active dealmakers in media, Canadian distributor Entertainment One, handling its purchase of a controlling interest in Sierra Pictures and its investment in Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners. He's working on a transaction involving a major scripted TV producer and the launch of a new mini-major studio, which includes the sale of a significant film library, and has multiple deals involving Chinese buyers or financiers.

    How do you celebrate a big deal?

    "Sleep. Maybe some champagne first, but mostly sleep."

  • Claudia Teran

    Carriage deals with cable operators "get the ugliest," says Teran. Since 2016, Fox Networks' executive vp business and legal affairs — perhaps the key dealmaker for the company's growing sports content — has been preparing for Fox's first coverage of the men's World Cup, scheduled for Russia in 2018. She also was a lead negotiator for a complex three-year deal for streaming in-market Major League Baseball games, powered by Disney's BAMTech and available through the Fox Sports Go app. Any time there are major TV sports deals to be hammered out, Teran is tasked with helping to implement a digital strategy.