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Modern Hollywood deals span not only monster mergers and expensive acquisitions but also savvy content plays and industrious brand building. Meet the 45 execs, lawyers and other advisors on the frontlines of industry-shaping transactions of all kinds.
Written by Evan Brown, Aaron Couch, J. Clara Chan, Winston Cho, Erik Hayden, Caitlin Huston, Mia Galuppo, Georg Szalai, Etan Vlessing and Alex Weprin.
THE EPIC PACTS
After a relative lull, it was only a matter of time before big-ticket mergers and acquisitions led to a new wave of consolidation and another shift in the entertainment industry. From Amazon’s $8.5 billion bet on Hollywood courtesy of MGM’s studio and vast IP library to the complicated and costly deal between AT&T and Discovery that saw WarnerMedia spun off in the largest Reverse Morris Trust transaction on record, industry dealmakers are back with a bang. Then, of course, there’s the CAA-ICM deal that saw the major agencies become a triad and the fraught purchase of Twitter by self-described “free speech absolutist” and loose cannon Elon Musk that may have permanently changed the social media landscape.
Discovery Closes $43B Merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia
After receiving the antitrust blessing of the Department of Justice, the megadeal created a media powerhouse (albeit one saddled with debt) with footholds in scripted and unscripted content. With brands like HBO, CNN and HGTV, the Warner Bros. film studio and streamers HBO Max and Discovery+ under one roof, the new Warner Bros. Discovery is positioning itself to take on Netflix and Disney — even after a more than $2 billion content write-off and layoffs across multiple departments
Lauren Boehmke & Melissa Sawyer
PARTNERS, SULLIVAN & CROMWELL
New York-based Sawyer, global head of the M&A group, co-led AT&T’s spinoff of WarnerMedia with L.A. partner Eric Krautheimer. Up-and-comer Boehmke, who began the transaction as senior associate and made partner during the course of the deal, advised AT&T on board and governance matters and an intricate closing process. The mega-merger wasn’t run-of-the-mill work. The largest ever Reverse Morris Trust transaction, a deal structure ensuring tax optimization, “it raised a lot of novel tax and securities law issues,” Sawyer recalls. Adds Boehmke: “We finalized the deal as COVID vaccines were becoming available, so we had to adapt to completing a complex deal in a hybrid work environment. The core team spoke at 9 p.m. every evening to ensure everyone was on the same page.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Boehmke was also on the team that worked with AT&T on its Hello Sunshine investment, as well as with clients AMC Networks and Madison Square Garden Entertainment, while Sawyer advised longtime client Diageo on its purchase of Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin. S&C lawyers, who have a long history of working in the sector, have also advised Wasserman Media Group on its acquisition of Paradigm’s North American live music representation business and Frank McCourt on the sale of the L.A. Dodgers to Guggenheim Baseball Management.
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER …
BOEHMKE “Be underprepared.”
SAWYER “Try to be something you’re not.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS
BOEHMKE “Reality television.”
PARTNER, PROSKAUER ROSE
As co-head of the firm’s Technology, Media and Telecom group, Freeman helps structure pacts that shape the way consumers view content. Of the Warner Bros. Discovery deal, Freeman notes, “We were called in relatively late to review the Warner Media network distribution deals. This is a challenging role as we must place any issues we identify in the context of the broader business deal and goals.” Freeman expects to remain busy in 2023, predicting “further consolidation in the media space, including with respect to streaming services.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Freeman advised Misfits Gaming in the sale of its European-based League of Legends franchise to Team Heretics, ForgeLight in its acquisition of Univision, and TMRW Sports on the laungh of TGL, a tech-infused golf league, and works with clients such as Hulu, Cox Communications, NBA Media and NFL Media.
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Act like a jerk.”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “Work smarter.”
Jonathan Levitsky & Sue Meng
PARTNERS, DEBEVOISE & PLIMPTON
This duo advised longtime client Discovery through the epic deal that involved numerous challenges, including discussions with major shareholders and complex financings. While deals of such magnitude typically require months to negotiate, the Debevoise and Discovery teams reached a signed agreement in a mere 14 days. Meng notes, “The ability to maintain calm under pressure is key.” Looking ahead, Levitsky says that market uncertainty is the death of dealmaking and he predicts an improved M&A market in 2023 “as it becomes clearer where we are in the economic cycle.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Meng advised Providence Equity Partners on its minority investment in the formation of Peter Chernin’s multi-genre studio The North Road Company.
FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022
LEVITSKY White Lotus
MENG Crash Landing on You
Amazon buys MGM for $8.5 Billion
The tech giant acquired the fabled movie studio in March, after regulatory approvals had been secured. The purchase gave Amazon an established independent film arm to complement its more TV-focused Amazon Studios, as well as a TV production division with a library of hit shows to complement what Amazon had already brought to market. It was MGM’s “vast, deep catalog of much beloved intellectual property” that piqued the interest of Jeff Bezos, the billionaire has said. Rocky, James Bond (which it shares with Eon), The Silence of the Lambs and other properties are ready to be reinvigorated within the confines of the tech giant’s media enterprise. Meanwhile, Hollywood gets another player committed to theatrical releases — and a studio set to pump out a reliable wave of streaming content for the foreseeable future.
PARTNER, CRAVATH SWAINE & MOORE
Elken’s team advised Amazon on the deal, helping the tech giant navigate the challenges tied to the acquisition — specifically, regulatory and intellectual property issues. “Dealmaking is really about understanding each side’s objectives and constraints and then developing tailored creative solutions to the hard problems,” Elken says, adding that looking ahead, he expects “to see more stock- for-stock deals, joint ventures and other deals that rely less on raising cash financing.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: The mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and activist defense specialist has also advised the likes of Anheuser‑Busch, Barnes & Noble, Lazard and Moelis.
HOW I DECOMPRESS “Playing with my kids, running, and watching James Bond movies on Amazon Prime!”
FAVORITE MOVIE OF 2022 “My daughter and I keep going back to Marcel the Shell.”
Kendall Johnson & Rick Offsay
PARTNERS, LATHAM & WATKINS
Having worked with MGM for years, this duo was “particularly well suited” to work on the deal, Johnson says. Even so, its timing amid the pandemic made it unique. “This was an all-hands, round-the-clock negotiation, and pre-COVID, we would all have been holed up in a conference room together for weeks,” Offsay says. “But this deal unfolded at the height of the pandemic and was all done remotely on Zoom, presenting a novel challenge.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Both were on the Latham team that recently advised Mediawan on its acquisition of a significant stake in Plan B; Johnson advised Spotify on a number of content deals, and MNTN on its acquisition of Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort marketing firm; and Offsay represented Skydance in its latest fundraising round, and Endeavor on deals including the sale of Endeavor Content to CJ ENM.
HOW I DECOMPRESS
JOHNSON “Playing sports, traveling and cooking.”
OFFSAY “Playing and watching sports with my kids.”
MY FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022
JOHNSON “Some of the best for me are Inventing Anna, Hacks and White Lotus.”
OFFSAY “Severance, produced by the business we sold last year, Fifth Season (formerly Endeavor Content).”
Jeff Marell & Cullen Sinclair
PAUL | WEISS
Also an adviser to MGM, Marell says that he and Sinclair navigated “significant regulatory matters and ownership issues related to its sprawling intellectual property portfolio.” Sinclair says the challenge was to give “Amazon the protections they were looking for around how the IP could be used, but also stay onside of the antitrust laws and MGM’s business plan.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Marrell advised Hemisphere Media on its acquisition of the Spanish-language streaming service Pantaya, and its subsequent sale to TelevisaUnivision, while Sinclair advised Advance (the Newhouse family holding company) on the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger.
FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION
MARELL “Continuing to focus on promoting the younger partners I work with as they transition into client leadership roles.“
CAA Buys ICM in a Deal Valued at $750 Million
And then there were three. When CAA in Sept. 2021 unveiled a blockbuster deal to snap up its rival, the bid shook the industry as a deal would leave just CAA, UTA and WME as the last major agencies standing. The plan to further consolidate the representation landscape immediately drew notice the plan to further consolidate the agency landscape sparked scrutiny from SAG-AFTRA, which said it would “carefully scrutinize” the merger. And the Department of Justice took a close look over antitrust concerns, culminating in a review process that kept the deal — and many agents — in limbo for nine months until a close this past June at a valuation of $750 million for ICM. This marks the biggest shift in agency land since WME owner Endeavor nabbed IMG for $2 billion in 2014. About 425 ICM employees joined the Century City-based company, while 125 were laid off and other agents looked to strike out on their own or join boutique talent firms.
PARTNER, DAVIS POLK
In making the deal, CAA had eyed ICM’s strength in its books division as well as its Stellar Group sports arm (which ICM bought in 2020). Given regulators’ scrutiny, Davis, the lead counsel for ICM, says “the most challenging aspect was helping shepherd the deal through a rigorous antitrust review process.” Looking at the coming year, Davis notes, “plenty of potential buyers have strong balance sheets and there will still be deals, although perhaps more opportunistically and at lower volumes than last year.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Davis repped Industrial Media, co-producer of American Idol, in its majority stake sale to Sony in a deal in March that valued the firm at $350 million. He also worked with Penguin Random House on its $2.17 billion bid for Simon & Schuster (that merger was scuttled after approval was blocked by a judge in late October).
Adam Emmerich & John Robinson
PARTNERS, WACHTELL LIPTON ROSEN & KATZ
Wachtell Lipton, which has advised CAA since 1995, took “a taskforce approach” when work- ing on the ICM merger, which Emmerich and Robinson described as having “interesting structural issues” often seen in M&A deals. In this case, the assets were agents’ relationships with clients. The combined agency now has 3,200 employees in 25 countries.
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Emmerich advised on a $20.8 billion north of the border telco megamerger of Shaw Communications and Rogers Communications (a deal which hasn’t yet closed), and has repped shareholders in Vice Media. The duo both worked on U.S. aspects of Vivendi’s spin-off of Universal Music Group.
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … Emmerich and Robinson: “Lose your temper by accident.”
Elon Musk Buys Twitter for $44 Billion
After trying to wriggle out of the deal, Musk gained control of a site that’s central to political and cultural discourse at a time when lawmakers are scrutinizing the control tech giants have over free speech. Amid mass layoffs, Musk has over- seen changes to content moderation, including reinstating banned users, like former President Donald Trump, and no longer enforcing its COVID-19 misinformation policy. Dozens of Twitter’s top advertisers shied away from the platform in November, though Musk says they’re returning after the initial exodus. Most recently, in a poll that attracted more than 17 million votes, the Chief Twit asked users if he should step down as CEO. After 57.5 percent voted yes, Musk said he’d resign “as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams.”
Remi Korenbilt & Martin Korman
PARTNERS, WILSON SONSINI
Twitter trusted this duo with every aspect of the deal, including negotiating terms, helping manage litigation and initially fending off Musk’s takeover bid with a poison pill. Korenbilt says, “Almost every step of the Twitter deal, with a lot of speculation and opinion, played out in the public eye, which was certainly unique and challenging.” Adds Korman, “People hire me to help reach agreement, when human nature is sometimes driving them to disagreement.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: The duo counseled mobile gaming powerhouse Zynga’s $12.7 billion purchase of video game publisher Take Two. They also led Poly in its $3.3 billion sale to HP.
CLIENT I’D LOVE TO WORK WITH
KORMAN “One in a complex business situation seeking to reach agreement with others, wants to have fun and be efficient.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER …
KORENBILT “Get mad! It can be easy to get emotional in a high-stakes negotiation, but a level head and calm approach will win a lot more points for your client than kicking and screaming.”
In addition to drafting the merger agreement and structuring the equity and debt financing, Nijjar was tasked with navigating daily — and sometimes hourly — developments impacting Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. Says Nijjar of the twists and turns representing the billionaire in this deal, “The fast pace of change and the dynamic nature of navigating competitive pressures made this one of the most fascinating deals I have worked on.”
OTHER NOTABLE WORK: Nijjar led Activision Blizzard in its $69 billion acquisition by Microsoft — not only the world’s largest technology deal ever but also the “largest-ever gaming industry deal, the largest deal of any kind since 2019, the largest-ever all-cash, public company deal and the largest-ever acquisition by Microsoft.”
FAVORITE MOVIE OF 2022 “Top Gun: Maverick was thoroughly entertaining and marked the first movie I have seen in a theater in over 2 years!”
THE FINANCIAL ADVISORS
If any group truly has a grasp on the pulse of Hollywood deals, it’s the investment banks that give incalculably valuable financial advice to entertainment’s elite — and there are three companies that insiders say rise above the rest (and their client lists show it).
FOUNDER AND CEO, LIONTREE
ADVISES AT&T, MGM, ViacomCBS, Apollo Global Management
As the co-founder and CEO of the small but very mighty boutique investment bank LionTree, Bourkoff has become a trusted and well-known name in the M&A space, gaining the ear of executives such as Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, even after he had represented AT&T on the opposite side of the merger. In his 2021 year-end letter, he predicted 2022 would be a “year of adjustment,” adding that “the most successful companies will be those that tend not only to their own bottom line, but to the long-term success of their industries.” Elsewhere in entertainment and media, LionTree also advised Take-Two Interactive on its $12.7 billion acquisition of Zynga, Apollo on its acquisition of Yahoo! and investment in Legendary Entertainment and The Chernin Group on its investment in Funko.
ADVISES Endeavor, Candle Media, Animal Logic, Weta Digital, A&E
Despite the “noise” of the market in the past year or so — ranging from interest rate increases to business challenges facing streamers — Hodge was able to break through on deals including the Roald Dahl Story Company in its sale to Netflix and Pixomondo in its acquisition by Sony. He expects companies to become “more flexible in their dealmaking” as economic pressures on the business increase. In addition to his Hollywood clients, he’s also carving out a niche in the digital space, including ATTN: and Vice Media.
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Go in on an empty stomach.”
FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022 “The entire Taylorverse.”
MANAGING DIRECTOR, MOELIS & COMPANY
ADVISES EQT, North Road, Plan B, Westbrook Inc.
Jimenez describes himself as having a 360-degree view of the M&A “chessboard” in Hollywood, after taking the lead on many deals, including advising Netflix on its acquisition of Scanline VFX, and working on the sale of a stake in UTA to Swedish private equity firm EQT. Most recently, he’s guiding Brad Pitt’s Plan B in its sale of a majority stake to France-based Mediawan — capping off what he’s calling his Fight Club year, as it previously included advising Edward Norton’s ad tech company EDO in its sale of an $80 million stake to to Shamrock Capital. Jimenez expects M&A activity within film and TV to “remain elevated” but says “the impact of a recession and inflation will be felt by both buyers and sellers.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS “Cue UB40 … Red, red wine.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Be a jerk. The world is small and karma’s a %&*$%.”
In modern Hollywood, agencies provide just about everything to everyone — from landing financing for big-ticket projects to lining up sequels and overalls and racking up their own acquisitions.
Ben Kramer & Roeg Sutherland
CO-HEADS OF MEDIA FINANCE, CAA
“The changing landscape of the theatrical business” has created a challenge in the past year, Kramer says. Yet he and Sutherland, CAA’s media finance co-chiefs, led deals including a $60 million pact for Sony to pick up Tom Hanks’ A Man Called Otto, a $50 million deal with Netflix for David Yates’ Pain Hustlers, and a $30 million deal for Focus to buy Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, as well as landing financing for Sony’s $90 million-budgeted Whitney Houston feature I Wanna Dance With Somebody. The most interesting aspect of the job these days? Sutherland: “The rise of the importance of local language content. The foreign business used to depend on U.S. films. No longer.”
THE TICKER Apple, Focus, Sony and more
Brad Slater & Warren Zavala
TALENT PARTNERS, WME
Slater — who reps Dwayne Johnson, Johnson’s partner Dany Garcia and Eva Longoria — inked Johnson’s Red One deal at Amazon and worked with Johnson and Garcia on the media rights deal to bring the XFL to ESPN. Meanwhile, Zavala worked on Tyler Perry’s mega-deals at Netflix and Amazon, Eddie Murphy’s three-film first look at Amazon, Halle Berry’s multifilm pact at Netflix and Ryan Reynolds’ Marvel deal for Deadpool 3. Helping clients retain ownership of their art is an ongoing priority and, looking ahead, Zavala also anticipates “AVOD expanding. A trend towards value creation for the streamers by embracing a traditional theatrical window before putting films to their respective services.”
THE TICKER Amazon, ESPN, Netflix, Marvel
“Coming out of the pandemic, our goal was to be as strong and proactive as possible,” the UTA COO says. That led to an acquisitive year for the Beverly Hills-based agency, which closed a $125 million deal for strategic advisory firm MediaLink, nabbed U.K. literary and talent agency Curtis Brown Group (home to Margaret Atwood and the estates of John le Carré and Ian Fleming), bought data firm MediaHound and secured capital from private equity firm EQT to fuel its growth.
THE TICKER The Curtis Brown Group, MediaLink, EQT stake
IN A NEGOTIATION NEVER … “Lose sight of the big picture.”
THE BRAND AND BUSINESS BUILDERS
Being a multihyphenate has become more ambitious as A-listers and influencers seek to add ‘mogul’ to their résumés with the help of these dealmakers.
Chatham says the landscape now demands that clients are multi-dimensional with their business moves — like Seth MacFarlane, who recently inked a spirits deal with Bear Fight. “I used to just do TV deals or movie deals. Now there’s all these new revenue streams for talent,” he says. “If you don’t have a TV show, a movie, a brand venture or some type of company that you’re using your following to build up, you’re just not a major player in the business anymore.”
On the more traditional dealmaking side, Chatham says the biggest shift he’s seeing is that we are no longer all consuming the same content and its increasingly “rare to have something that captures the zeitgeist.” He works with executive producers of Dave (FX’s most watched show), recently celebrated season 21 of Dr. Phil and says he’s very happy about his team’s new CBS drama So Help Me Todd. “Getting on the CBS platform is special for us because they have established entities like NCIS and CSI To break in with a new type of show that was the number one pilot for the season is something we’re really proud of.”
CLIENT I’D LOVE TO WORK WITH “Cormac McCarthy.”
FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022 The Bear
PARTNER, WILLKIE FARR & GALLAGHER
A go-to attorney for stars using their social capital to build business empires — including the sale of Ryan Reynolds’ Maximum Effort Marketing to MNTN last year — Epstein works with the likes of Selena Gomez, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Drake, Pharrell Williams and Norman Reedus. In 2023, Epstein predicts there will be fewer “purely financial” deals as companies look toward more strategic partnerships.
Epstein, chair of the firm’s entertainment transactions practice, most recently represented Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment in the sale of a majority stake to Mediawan and also brokered the sale of more than 200 films from Spyglass to Lionsgate.
FAVORITE BOOK OF 2022 “The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life by Boyd Varty.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Say ‘best and final’ unless you really mean it.”
Amanda Groves & Adam Lilling
“Our mission is to take people who can affect change in the world and marry them with the top opera- tors and entrepreneurs,” says Lilling. PLUS has set up more than 250 deals including Multiverse with Paul George and Terry Crews, Pachama with Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Salesforce with Matthew McConaughey, and Vegamour with Nicole Kidman. Lilling adds, “We’re not really focused on their entertainment endeavors. We’re focused on connecting their profits, their passion, and purpose with profit opportunities in the private equity landscape.”
PLUS, which has operated as a bridge between the entertainment and startup/tech worlds for more than a decade, prides itself in building trust, transparency and improving market literacy for clients. “I think there’s been a greater emphasis on education about the value of equity relative to developing cash and explaining how necessary thorough due diligence is, particularly when you’re taking equity based risk as opposed to getting paid in cash upfront,” says Groves, adding that waiting for the right partnership at the right time is key: “Helping to mitigate FOMO is crucial.”
FAVORITE PODCAST OF 2022
BOTH Meghan Markle’s Archetypes with Meghan.
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION
LILLING “Scale faster.”
CLIENT I’D LOVE TO WORK WITH
GROVES “The Obamas.”
FOUNDING MANAGING DIRECTOR, NIGHT CAPITAL
The former Amazon exec — who landed Nicki Minaj’s Queen Radio show earlier this year, which she says was “a massive deal for the company and for Barbz across the world” — took a major leap of faith this fall. After spending much of her career at large companies, she pivoted to “build a new business venture from the ground up.” She now leads Night Capital, the investment firm founded by YouTube star MrBeast’s manager, Reed Duchscher. It’s backed by The Chernin Group and has a $100 million fund dedicated to acquiring ownership stakes in creator-led companies. In 2023, Moore predicts, “There will be continued disruption of traditional brands by talent led brands in new categories. Additionally, as the ‘digitally-native’ consumer ages up, we will also see more digital talent converging into linear.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS “Peloton rides with Alex Toussaint and Kendall Toole.”
MY FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022 “I have widely varying and eclectic tastes — my content categories of choice include sports, history, comedy or biography — it really just depends on the day. A few of my favorites series from this year include Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty; The First Lady; I Love That For You; The Dropout; and Murderville.“
MANAGING DIRECTOR AND GLOBAL HEAD OF BUSINESS, YOUTUBE BRANDCONNECT
In her role linking major companies like Neutrogena and Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms with top creators on YouTube, Sobel sees herself sitting “at the epicenter of the brand, creator and fan ecosystem.” The 19-year Google veteran, who also happens to be the daughter of a Broadway producer, says the influencer space is “constantly evolving” as marketers seek to launch campaigns across multiple formats including YouTube shorts, longform video and more, “to tailor branded content to reach and resonate with specific consumer audiences.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS “Spending time with my family at the beach. I also enjoy yoga and boxing and trying out new recipes from YouTube creators.”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “Continue to grow our partnerships with emerging creators around the world to help support and fuel what they do and love best.”
THE CONTENT RACE COGNOSCENTI
Hollywood couldn’t keep grinding without the guidance of execs dedicated to curating programming slates, advisers finding collaborative stakeholders and lawyers adapting to an ever-shifting environment.
CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER AND U.S. NETWORKS GROUP CHAIR, WARNER BROS. DISCOVERY
“Bringing two large, siloed content groups together to form one cohesive team has been both exciting and a little daunting,” says Finch of establishing a new normal at Warner Bros. Discovery, where her group oversees thousands of hours of original content across dozens of networks, including content and talent deals. “We’ve had to learn about new businesses and get to know new colleagues in an extremely short amount of time, but the accelerated pace provided the adrenaline rush that keeps this business fun.” Finch, who says her early career as a network news producer made her “unflappable,” predicts “2023 will see a Great Content Reckoning. There’s too damn much. I believe the industry will embrace more strategic, thoughtful development decisions and leave behind the mantra of ‘more, more, more!!'”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “To not feel guilty about spending so much time working.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS “I got into this business due to an unnatural love of television. I can literally binge-watch an entire season of a series in one day, and I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I often do.”
A24, the beloved independent film outfit, has long been at the center of sale speculation, but this year the studio received its first investment since seed funding thanks to Stripes. Fox’s company, which was an early investor in podcasting powerhouse Gimlet Media, led an equity investment of $225 million in the studio for a minority stake. As part of the deal, which valued A24 at more than $2.5 billion, Fox now sits on the indie’s board.
CEO, BBC STUDIOS
Under Fussell’s leadership, the commercial arm of U.K. public broadcaster BBC strengthened its portfolio of production companies in 2022. It bought Killing Eve producer Sid Gentle Films and Firebird, which is working on Wilderness for Amazon. Plus, it acquired a minority stake in Turbine Studios, the company behind the likes of anthology film series Small Axe, movie Munich: The Edge of War and Steve McQueen’s documentary series Uprising. It also expanded in the unscripted space, buy- ing producer Voltage TV outright and taking a 25 percent stake in indie Mothership. “Our creative and commercial ambition is to double in the next five years, having already doubled in the last five, and the production labels we acquire are a core part of our strategy, supplementing our organic growth plans,” says Fussell. In 2023, “the economic climate will no doubt temper investment and is already leading to radical cost-cutting across the industry. It will be a tough time, but we are able to invest for the long-term.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS “I love watching TV; it’s a privilege to do it for a living.”
FAVORITE SERIES OF 2022 “There’s been too much to choose from, but a personal favorite of mine was Prehistoric Planet, which we made exclusively for Apple TV+. Absolutely captivating — you genuinely feel like you are watching real dinosaurs 66 million years ago.”
CEO, LEGENDARY ENTERTAINMENT
“If we can start to develop a model that moves away from buyouts and moves toward profit participation, I think it will be the start of another content boom,” says Grode of figuring out a fresh financial model in the streaming age. The past year has seen the executive in negotiations for a minority equity investment from Apollo for $750 million, and a global theatrical distribution deal with Sony Pictures after leaving longtime home Warner Bros.
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “Find more time to appreciate the small wins.”
FAVORITE BOOK OF 2022 “When We Cease To Understand the World” by Benjamin Labatut.”
CEO, HELLO SUNSHINE
Harden has recently found herself as both a buyer and seller in buzzy Hollywood deals. First, Hello Sunshine sold to Blackstone-backed Candle Media in a deal reportedly north of $900 million. (Harden and Reese Witherspoon joined Candle’s board as part of the deal.) A few months later, Hello Sunshine acquired the popular brand The Home Edit, marking the company’s entree into the world of homewares. As for next year, Harden sees growth in “all things experiential/live — entertainment, music, art, travel.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Fill all the silence. Instead, resist the urge to talk!”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “Take more time to tell people how much you see/notice their individual contributions to the work and what actions you see them taking that add to our culture and embody our mission and values.”
David Hernand & Susan Zuckerman Williams
PARTNERS, PAUL HASTINGS
Together the duo repped Fox in its acquisition of Mar Vista Entertainment, while Hernand guided HYBE as it picked up Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings and Zuckerman Williams helped 777 Partners craft financing to acquire STX Entertainment. The deal frenzy was extra challenging amid a fight to retain attorneys, Hernand notes, “as competition was fierce and companies were throwing cash around to hire more talent.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER …
HERNAND “Insult your adversary – it’s not productive.”
WILLIAMS “Not realize that the other side has conceded the point you are making and continue to negotiate.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS
HERNAND “Tennis and family time.”
WILLIAMS “Hanging out with my family and our dog and training a few times a week.”
CHAIRMAN, UNIVERSAL STUDIO GROUP
Igbokwe oversees thousands of hours of programming across four studios, which boast hit series and prolific creators like Tina Fey, Seth MacFarlane, Julie Plec and Dick Wolf. Amid the continuing and competitive streaming-era content shuffle, Igbokwe moved Magnum P.I. from CBS to NBC and Girls5eva from Peacock to Netflix. “Both deals were complicated, but illustrated our very collaborative relationship with our internal platform partners,” she says, adding that the most challenging aspect of her work recently “has been maintaining a sense of continuity in the wake of the biggest social justice movement and world health crises of the past 40 years.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Enter with a closed mind. Always stay open to compromise.”
FAVORITE FILM OF 2022 “The Woman King and Mr. Malcolm’s List.”
SVP & ASSOCIATE GENERAL COUNSEL, FIFTH SEASON
The Los Angeles-based M&A specialist, who had worked at Endeavor since 2015, took in-house lead on CJ ENM’s acquisition of the agency’s content division. The South Korean giant purchased an 80 percent stake that valued the company behind Apple’s Severance at $850 million. “Having been on all sides of all types of transactions in my career as an M&A lawyer, 2022 marked my first experience as an in-house corporate lawyer at an acquisition target. It becomes less about staying in your lane, and more about helping paint the lines while the road takes shape in real time,” she says of Fifth Season (rebranded from Endeavor Content in September).
HOW I DECOMPRESS “Learning TikTok dances, in a nod to my pre-law-school glory days as an NBA dancer [for the New Jersey Nets].”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER … “Rely on vague idioms or turns of phrase. I recently told my kids ‘the last thing they need is another stuffed animal.’ Let’s just say it wasn’t as effective as ‘no.'”
CEO, CJ ENM AMERICA
On the other side of the Endeavor Content deal was Killoren, who has spent more than a decade at the American branch of the South Korean giant known for best picture winner Parasite. In 2022, she played a key role in CJ ENM’s purchase of its majority stake in the agency’s studio arm. The newly rebranded Fifth Season was spun off earlier this year, with that deal valuing it at $1 billion. The acquisition marks a significant step in CJ ENM’s ambitions to produce multiple English-language films or TV shows a year.
Kevin Mayer & Tom Staggs
CO-FOUNDERS, CANDLE MEDIA
After its first major acquisition, Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Candle Media has been on a bona fide buying spree. This includes acquiring children’s entertainment company Moonbug (its biggest buy to date at more than $3 billion), as well as stakes in Will and Jada Smith’s Westbrook Inc., the Fauda creators’ Faraway Road Productions, Singapore-based studio One Animation, and Web3 outfit Notables. The duo expects demand for quality content to continue to grow and, in light of Hollywood consolidation, say “there is incredible value in being an independent, reliable, high-volume owner and supplier of premium content.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER …
MAYER “Try to screw the counter party. Always find something to give that’s more important to them than to you.”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION
STAGGS “Binge-watch Fauda Season 4.”
Marissa Román Griffith & Chris Spicer
PARTNERS, AKIN GUMP STRAUSS HAUER & FELD
The complex legal issues and industry trends they grasp are arrows in the quiver for this duo, who rep some of the industry’s top banks and producers. Spicer advised HPS Investment Partners in arranging debt for Kobalt Music Group, while Román Griffith assisted MRC Films with licensing and financing Rian Johnson’s Poker Face series for Peacock and raising production coin for its Fair Play and The Snack Shack movies. Next year, Spicer sees media and entertainment investments continuing “despite significant headwinds,” while Román Griffith sees ongoing “weak box office results,” compared to pre-pandemic levels.
CLIENT THEY’D LOVE TO WORK WITH “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Artists Equity banner.”
IN A NEGOTIATION, NEVER …
SPICER “Let the other side know you can’t walk away.”
HOW I DECOMPRESS
GRIFFITH “Playing poker, golf and pickle ball (none of them all that well).”
PARTNER, SIDLEY AUSTIN
A flurry of M&A deals saw Thompson close about $1 billion in music-related transactions alone. The showbiz mover also advised Conan O’Brien and Team Coco in its acquisition by Sirius XM, and separately Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as they launched Artists Equity with RedBird Capital backing them. Thompson predicts more deal-making in 2023, despite the industry’s economic headwinds, “maybe not quite at 2021/2022 levels, but robust nonetheless.”
MY 2023 WORK RESOLUTION “Work less — but that never seems to happen.”
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