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What to do with a $1.1 billion windfall?
For WME-IMG, the answer is to invest in content. After closing a deal for $1.1?billion from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, agency co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell are putting a sizable chunk into financing films, television series and even Broadway plays.
Insiders say the super-agency — now valued at $6.3?billion, up from its $5.5?billion valuation last year — is backing client Michael Moore’s Broadway show The Terms of My Surrender, which opens Aug.?10, and client Steve Harvey’s new syndicated daytime talk show, Steve.
WME-IMG also is funding CAA-repped Beau Willimon’s upcoming Hulu space drama The First, co-financing for the first time a project from another agency’s client.
WME-IMG has dabbled with film financing in the past, but the new funds signal a much more aggressive push into owning intellectual property.
“It enables WME to use their core clients in a way they couldn’t before because they’re not at the mercy of a third party,” says a source familiar with the agency’s mind-set. “Now they have greater control of their destiny.” WME-IMG declined comment.
Emanuel and Whitesell called the new pact a move “to continue growing our international footprint” in an Aug. 2 statement. The two new investors join SoftBank, Fidelity and majority owner Silver Lake Partners, which also has announced it will extend its investment in WME-IMG.
Since its initial infusion of funds, the agency has acquired several companies from the fashion and sports worlds, the biggest being a $4 billion acquisition of mixed martial arts organization UFC in July 2016. Other acquisitions include former client Donald Trump’s Miss Universe pageant.
Meanwhile, some of the $1.1?billion will go to pay off UFC minority investor Mubadala, while another chunk of change will be used to pay out agents (a couple hundred have the option to liquidate their buyback programs). Agents typically don’t have trouble spending money.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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