Endemol acquires U.K. production companies

Tiger Aspect, Darlow Smithson and Tigress sell for $50 mil

Endemol has acquired three British production companies from IMG Worldwide: leading TV and feature producer Tiger Aspect, documentary producer Darlow Smithson and wildlife documentary programming producer Tigress.

The pact, said to be in the neighborhood of £30 million ($50 million), is part of Endemol's aggressive acquisition strategy of the past couple of years and elevates the reality giant to the top tier of global production and distribution operations that includes Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Reveille and RTL-owned Fremantle.

The deal comes a month after global sports and modeling agency/entertainment company IMG announced that it was looking at potentially offloading Tiger Aspect and Darlow Smithson.

Tiger Aspect was arguably the top entertainment property on IGM's portfolio. The company, one of the U.K.'s best-known producers, is behind such hits as film "Billy Elliot" and kids animation "Charlie and Lola," comedy "Diary of a Call Girl," which ran on Showtime, drama "Vicar of Dibley." It also has produced U.S. reality series "Make Me a Supermodel" for Bravo and "Cook Yourself Thin" for Lifetime.

Darlow Smithson is a leading producer of high-end documentary features including "The Diary of Anne Frank," "Stephen Hawking's Universe" and "Touching the Void." It also produced "Miracle on the Hudson," which aired on TLC.

Tigress Prods. had been under Darlow Smithson's oversight since July.

All three companies will "retain creative freedom" under the umbrella of Endemol UK, reporting to U.K. chief executive Tim Hincks, Endemol said. Their products will be handled internationally by Endemol Worldwide Distribution and Endemol Group's format sales operation.

"Endemol is the real deal -- a fully functioning global creative business," said Andrew Zein, managing director of Tiger Aspect. "They understand and appreciate what we do and how we do it...We've found the ideal home."

Financially the three new companies will provide much-needed cash-flow to the Endemol U.K. balance sheet beyond 2010, when its revenues will be hit by the estimated £60 million ($100 million) a year loss of income from revenue stalwart "Big Brother," which has been axed by Channel 4 after next year.

"This acquisition enhances our global business in key areas such as drama and further strengthens our program distribution activities, which will now include one of the UK's best programming libraries," said Ynon Kreiz, chairman and CEO of Endemol Group.

IMG, best known for its roster of top sports and modeling talent, has been scaling back its presence in the entertainment content area following the abrupt end last year of former HBO topper Chris Albrecht's one-year stint at the company which was originally designed to vastly expand IMG's media foothold.

IMG acquired Tiger Aspect, Darlow Smithson and Tigress three years ago, but is jettisoning them as part of the shift in strategy, IMG's exec vp and CFO Chris Davis, said.

"These companies have never been synergistic with IMG's core business," he said. "We believe they are an excellent fit with Endemol's global network of companies... IMG will continue to focus its resources on its exceptional global core capabilities."