EXCLUSIVE: United Talent Agency has retained Moelis & Company to find an investor to acquire an equity stake in UTA as high as 40%, sources said. If a deal makes — it is not set in stone that UTA will close — the agency will primarily use the capital infusion to continue to aggressively broaden its businesses, something that has already been happening organically. And it might enter into the content creation arena as WME and CAA have done.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said the agency turns an annual profit north of $50 million on revenues north of $325M. It wasn’t clear at the moment the worth of an equity stake as high as 40% would bring from an outside investor.
CEO Jeremy Zimmer is driving the process, and he runs the agency with co-presidents Jay Sures and David Kramer. The agency has been growing organically over the past few years, much of it through strategic acquisitions. While the mass exodus of 11 CAA comedy agents to UTA loudly brought a slew of clients including Will Ferrell and Chris Pratt in 2015, most of the agency’s expansion has been accomplished at a quieter volume level. That includes last year’s expansion into new New York headquarters on 888 7th Avenue, and an imminent plan to take over the entire space of UTA Plaza on Civic Center Drive in Los Angeles. The agency shared the sedate grounds there with Playboy Enterprises, but that company is exiting the premises, sources said.
UTA has broadened from its core business of talent representation in film and television by acquiring several niche agencies. That includes NS Bienstock, the agency that reps news and broadcast talent that includes Anderson Cooper, Chuck Todd, Don Lemon, Dana Bash, Margaret Brennan, Bill Whitaker, Gloria Borger, David Muir and Nora O’Donnell. UTA acquired the music and touring talent agency The Agency Group, and established its presence in the electronic music space with the acquisition of Circle Talent Agency. The acquisition of Greater Talent Network last fall gave UTA a presence in the live speaking space. UTA last year also acquired an equity stake in AGM Partners investment bank, a company run by Alan Mnuchin, the brother of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The agency has in a few years doubled its size to more than 1000 employees, and has bolstered a UTA Marketing division and now reps clients that include GM, Coke, LinkedIn, Lyft and Delta. Its strongholds continue to be above- and below-the-line representation of talent in film (beyond Pratt and Ferrell, the list includes James Gunn, F. Gary Gray, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Judd Apatow, Angelina Jolie, Joel & Ethan Coen, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, Ted Melfi, Channing Tatum, Amy Schumer, Frances McDormand, Harrison Ford) and TV, where its recent packages include Brooklyn Nine Nine, Rick & Morty, Modern Family and Roseanne (now relaunching as the spinoff The Conners).
UTA also acquired a minority stake in CORE Media and guided the relaunch of American Idol. The latter could provide a hint of where a potential cash infusion might take the agency. That is, to fund entry into the content creation business, a growing sector for CAA and WME.
UTA dipped a toe in the production business with CORE and American Idol, but content creation is a seemingly obvious place to expand in a time of unprecedented upheaval in Hollywood. CAA (through Wiip) and WME (through Endeavor Content) are growing more aggressive in packaging and financing content, even acquiring material from other agencies. The thinking at UTA is the agency could find itself at a disadvantage if it doesn’t get into that game, and be unable to get directly involved in helping clients find ways to get projects funded.
UTA last year sold a minority stake to activist hedge fund manager Jeffrey Ubben to help with some of those boutique agency acquisition deals, but the sale of a 40% stake would mark new ground.
CAA and WME have both sold majority equity stakes and used it to build out areas like sports, investment banking and content creation divisions. TPG escalated a 35% stake in CAA to 53% in 2014, and WME’s parent company Endeavor has a major stakeholder in Silver Lake Partners, among other investment funds that allowed it to make bold sports industry acquisitions like the $2.4 billion acquisition of IMG and the $4 billion purchase of UFC.
The agency would not comment on the process.
Said UTA Global Chief Communications Officer Seth Oster: “This is a period of tremendous transition in the media business, and our goal is to ensure our colleagues and clients have access to the resources and information they need to take advantage of the opportunities this kind of disruption provides. If that’s best achieved through a capital partner, we may decide to choose one.”