Endemol Shine is dancing towards a new future with a coterie of former top lieutenants potentially leading the waltz.

The superindie is up for sale, a process that could see a romantic recoupling with the likes of founder John De Mol and ex-creative chief Peter Bazalgette, who is now Chairman of UK’s ITV, or international bosses such as Marco Bassetti and Stéphane Courbit, who now run France’s Banijay.

Deadline, which revealed the news that the Big Brother and Black Mirror producer was on block with suitors including ITV in April, has spoken to a raft of senior figures in the global television business to analyse which companies are most likely to takeover and what the company’s future would like look, if as expected, a sale is triggered.

Earlier this month, Endemol Shine owners Apollo Global and 21st Century Fox hired Deutsche Bank and Liontree to advise on a deal, which could value the Masterchef owner anywhere between $2B-$3B. This comes as a number of international and U.S. companies, including All3Media co-owner Liberty Global, ITV and Vivendi-backed Banijay are understood to be considering an offer. Buyers are thought to be looking through the books with initial offers expected any day.

John Malone’s Liberty Global is one of the companies leading the charge. The conglomerate is likely to be cash rich, having agreed in May to sell its telecoms assets in Europe to Vodafone for $22B, and has been increasingly moving into the content world.

In fact, Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries said at the recent Series Fest event that it was “tiptoeing” into the content business and would continue to “get its feet wet” in this world. “It would be surprising if we didn’t look at it through All3Media,” he added.

Masterchef
Fox

A deal to put together All3Media, which owns the likes of Undercover Boss producer Studio Lambert and Penny Dreadful indie Neal Street Productions, with Endemol Shine would create a major player in the international TV business, an interesting scale move in a world more and more dominated by global players such as Netflix and Amazon. It would be an interesting deal for Jane Turton-run All3Media, a smaller group than Endemol Shine, which only a few years ago was seen as a takeover target for Endemol Shine before its sale to Liberty Global and Discovery. One source said that while there would be some duplication between the two groups, Liberty is “seriously” looking at this possibility.

Liberty Global also owns 9.9% of British commercial broadcaster ITV, which itself is one of the companies eyeing a deal for Endemol Shine. It would be a transformative deal for ITV, which has been aggressively acquisitive in recent years, and would be a major statement by CEO Carolyn McCall, who joined at the start of the year. It would bring together global formats such as ITV’s Love Island and Netflix breakout Queer Eye with Endemol Shine’s own library of entertainment hits. More interestingly, it would also reunite John De Mol with the company that he founded. De Mol sold The Voice producer Talpa Media to ITV in 2015. ITV Chairman Peter Bazalgette also knows the business well, having sold his own indie to the company, prior to its merger with Shine, and worked as chief creative officer and UK chairman under former owners Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica.

A source close to ITV told Deadline that McCall needs a statement of intent and a deal, which could be driven by Director of Corporate Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions Tom Betts, would also be one last hurrah for CFO and COO Ian Griffiths, who is retiring at the end of the year. “They need something big and it would make sense for them to double down on content. There would also be an element of hilarity with John De Mol and Baz still being in the tent,” the source said. “It would be expensive but I think they can afford it.”

Dark
Netflix

Banijay, the European group that owns Keeping Up With The Kardashians producer Bunim-Murray, is seen as a decent outside bet by many observers. Although the company would struggle to close a deal by itself, it is buoyed by the fact that it is owned by the deep-pocketed Vivendi and also counts former Endemol chiefs Courbit and Bassetti amongst its senior execs. Banijay Chairman Courbit was previously CEO of Endemol France, while Bassetti held a number of senior roles including Italian boss, and COO, President and CEO of the entire group, before leaving in 2012.

“There’s something quite romantic about Courbit and Bassetti being involved, it would be delicious, sweet revenge for them” said one source close to Banijay. “It couldn’t do it by themselves but Vivendi has lots of cash and needs a story outside of France. The ownership in Banijay is quite complicated and creating an enlarged group would appeal. If they can transform the group it would gloss over their problems and would be a big plus. Banijay probably needs to buy Endemol Shine more than any of the other bidders.”

Other bidders are expected; studios including Sony and Lionsgate have been mentioned, although the former would need to convince the powers that be in Japan that it makes sense, and the latter is itself a takeover target. FremantleMedia-owner RTL is likely to have a look, a tie-up would be similar to the All3Media model, although the German company has been relatively quiet when it comes to big-ticket acquisitions. There may be private equity interest, although sources said that such a deal would be more about synergies with another television business rather than a growth plan.

However, one senior exec who has been responsible for bringing together two major production groups warned that synergies aren’t always easy to find. “When you pair two production companies together, you don’t actually save that much money, you save a bit in head office and push together distribution companies but those don’t amount to a really significant uplift in business or dramatic cost synergies. The biggest argument would be scale,” he said.

Endemol Shine is thought to be performing well; sources told Deadline that CEO Sophie Turner-Laing has hit her numbers recently with the company’s latest annual accounts, which are filed in the Netherlands, where it has its HQ, showing that EBITDA has grown by double digits over the previous year.

Peaky Blinders
BBC Two

The company, which last year produced more than 800 shows in 79 territories for 287 broadcasters, has found drama hits in the likes of Netflix dystopian drama Black Mirror and British period Peaky Blinders, alongside formats including Hunted, The Island and Your Face Sounds Familiar. Its latest entertainment shows such as All Together Now, the BBC talent show that has rolled out in Australia and Brazil, German Wipeout-style format Big Bounce Battle and Family Food Fight, which is being remade by ABC in the U.S., have gone someway to allaying the criticism that it is too heavily reliant on old formats.

There are question marks over the future of Big Brother, particularly in the UK, where it has not yet renewed its deal with Viacom’s Channel 5, although it continues to have a successful run in the U.S. via CBS and its streaming service CBS All Access.

Big Brother
Endemol Shine / C5

The U.S. remains a crucial market for the superindie. Run by Cris Abrego, it produces series such as Fox’s Masterchef, which is in its ninth season and Showtime’s Jim Carrey-produced I’m Dying Up Here, which has been struggling of late, and has recently scored reboots of Deal or No Deal with CNBC and British drama Utopia, which is being remade by Gillian Flynn for Amazon, but still needs more big wins in North America.

But the group is also becoming more international; the company’s German indie Wiedemann & Berg Television has found success with Netflix’s Dark and TNT Serie’s 4 Blocks and Scandinavian thriller The Bridge continues to be remade globally. It has just promoted Lars Blomgren, who was most recently Managing Director of Endemol Shine’s Swedish producer Filmlance International, as head of non-English language drama across Europe. It has 20 labels in the UK, including Broadchurch producer Kudos and entertainment firms Remarkable and Initial securing commissions and Mark and Carl Fennessy, two of Australia’s most successful and charismatic producers, have also performed well down under.

Whether a merger with another big group will benefit Endemol Shine remains to be seen. Comments by Turner Laing following its creation, however, still seem relevant today. At Mipcom in 2015, she said some folk “will view consolidation and growth of the mega-indies as a worrying trend for our industry. I don’t believe for a minute that consolidation, foreign ownership or size and scale mean one thing or another for creativity”. At Natpe in 2016, she added, “In a lot of creatives’ eyes, big equals evil. But it’s not about size, it’s about your network. If you have a beautiful piece of content, we are the people who can turn it into a global hit.”

Whoever buys Endemol Shine will hope that that it precisely still the case.