UTA Acquires New York TV News Power Agency N.S. Bienstock

Carole Cooper and Richard Leibner - P 2014
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Carole Cooper and Richard Leibner - P 2014

"It just makes everything better for all of our clients," Bienstock co-founder Richard Leibner tells The Hollywood Reporter of a deal that helps UTA better compete with rivals WME and CAA.

United Talent Agency is making a big bet on the television news business.

The agency has acquired New York-based N.S. Bienstock in a deal that will overnight give the Beverly Hills-based talent agency leading market share in the evolving broadcast news business.

Bienstock, which counts top personalities including Fox News Channel's Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts among its key clients, will maintain its current management structure, with founders Richard Leibner and Carole Cooper continuing to run the 50-year-old company as co-presidents. The pair, who are married, also will become special advisers to the UTA board of directors, with UTA managing director Jay Sures overseeing the relationship on behalf of UTA. 

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The deal, for which conversations have been kept under wraps for several months, will give UTA access to a lucrative new genre of talent at a time when the line between news and entertainment increasingly is blurred. “N.S. Bienstock has been the undisputed leader in the broadcast news representation business for years, and they have a substantial unscripted business. Having them as part of the UTA family is not only good for their clients, it gives UTA and our clients access to an area that we believe is rife with opportunity," Sures tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview.

For Bienstock, the move provides clients looking for new opportunities outside of the traditional confines of broadcast and cable news divisions access to a full-service agency with a foothold in television, film, digital, gaming, books, touring, branding, licensing and speaking engagements. "With all of the new distribution systems and digital [options], to continue to be able to do what was best for the clients was becoming more difficult," admits Leibner. "It just makes everything better for all of our clients, and it brings a whole new wealth of clients to UTA."

Bienstock boasts a deep TV news roster, which also includes Norah O’Donnell, Glenn Beck, Lara Logan, Bob Schieffer, Steve Kroft, Bob Simon and David Muir. But they also have seen clients such as David Gregory, Chris Matthews and Sam Champion defect to big Hollywood agencies like CAA and WME, which have promised 360-brand development. This partnership will give Bienstock more leverage at a time when news division bean counters are balking at eye-popping salary demands and have forced anchors to swallow pay cuts.

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The partnership also could strengthen Bienstock's unscripted TV and packaging division, which represents the production companies behind such programming as Investigation Discovery’s On the Case With Paula Zahn and History’s Mountain Men, and a deep bench of executive producers at daytime and syndicated series including LIVE With Kelly and Michael, Ellen and Entertainment Tonight. UTA has more extensive relationships in the unscripted business in Los Angeles, where it reps Jersey Shore creator SallyAnn Salsano, Relativity Television CEO Tom Forman and production companies including Jupiter Entertainment (Welcome to Myrtle Manor).

Leibner says that he and Cooper have been approached by the other major Hollywood agencies over the years, but UTA's “client-first” approach made it the best fit. "Of the big three [agencies]," he says, "they are the people who have the most respect for their clientele and are not just worried about their own braggadocio."

The news comes as the major Hollywood talent agencies are exploring ways to diversify their businesses in the face of challenges in the traditional film and scripted television arenas. In December, sports and fashion behemoth IMG Worldwide was acquired by WME and private-equity backer Silver Lake. UTA has since picked up former WME partner Brian Swardstrom, who brings to its two-year-old New York office a bevy of top clients, including Tilda Swinton, Damian Lewis, Jessica Lange and Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Wood. UTA also reps Johnny Depp, Judd Apatow, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Mindy Kaling and Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan, among many others.

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Though financial terms of the pact were not disclosed, UTA financed the Bienstock deal without the help of an outside investing partner. The talent agency was advised by law firm Skadden Arps. It follows UTA’s 2012 move to a new 130,000-foot global headquarters in Beverly Hills and the launch of in-house brand strategy consultancy, UTA Brand Studios.

As part of the arrangement, N.S. Bienstock will retain its name, corporate identity and New York offices, with the entire leadership team and agents remaining in place. Cooper and Leibner's sons, Jonathan and Adam Leibner, will become partners at UTA while retaining their senior roles at Bienstock. Asked how long he would remain at the agency he helped build, the 70-something-year-old Leibner quipped, "As I’ve always said, they’ll have to carry me out." 

Editor's note: Co-author Guthrie's husband is represented by Bienstock.