Steve Michaels Buys Back Asylum Entertainment From Legendary, Launches The Content Group

Steve Michaels
The Content Group

Steve Michaels, whose production company Asylum Entertainment was sold to Legendary in early 2014, has bought the company back and is its sole owner, I have learned. No financial terms are being disclosed but I hear that the purchase price was lower than the more than $100 million Legendary reportedly paid for Asylum as the marketplace has changed dramatically in the past several years and Asylum, bought by Legendary’s previous regime, does not fit into the company’s new strategy.

Michaels has launched a new company, The Content Group, using the Asylum slate, staff and infrastructure as a backbone. Michaels will serve as CEO, and has named longtime associate and former Asylum executive Ryann Lauckner as president. Michaels’ longtime partner in Asylum, Jonathan Koch, will serve as chief strategic advisor as the seasoned executive continues to recover from a life-threatening illness and hand transplant.

For The Content Group, which will produce both unscripted and scripted projects, Michaels is utilizing a version of a business model used by a number of independent companies. TCG calls it “open partnership with collaborators” and functioning as a creative collective via non-exclusive deals with independent producers, filmmakers, showrunners, talent, as well as established production companies.

At least in part in response to the changes in the marketplace, under the business template, TCG will offer its creative partners competitive EP fee splits; a share of net profits and aggressive payment schedules. It also promises to get to market faster with a streamlined company structure.

Adding a new element to the indie business model, in addition to short-term benefits, TCG also proposes long-term ones,  allowing all contributors a piece of potential profits if TCG is sold.

 “We are extremely excited to embrace a flexible, project-driven business model, crafted to encourage creative partners to earn profits as if they had equity in a content company they started themselves,” Michaels said. “This strategy is buoyed by increased transparency and leans into the assets of our company and our people.”

 “Jonathan and I were fortunate to have worked with a great team to build a traditional, lucrative production company that resulted in a profitable transaction,” Michaels added. “We know today’s environment is different, and we have worked closely with Ryann and our extended team to design The Content Group in a way that can combat the industry’s challenges while creating opportunity.”

In addition to Michaels, Koch and Lauckner, other executives transitioning from Asylum Entertainment to The Content Group include James Macnab, SVP, Content; Jesse Surovell, VP, Content Strategy; and Patti Duce, SVP, Production & Operations.

“The marketplace is rich with idea generators, but few have the resources to fully execute the projects they conceive,” Lauckner said. “They often are paired with established production companies whose focus is primarily dedicated to internal ideas because internal ideas are the most incentivized. The result is that the weight of survival is placed on a small, in-house development engine that tries to be all things to all buyers, something we don’t believe is fair or sustainable. However, navigating that reality helped us pivot to a model that incentivizes partnership instead.”

Asylum Entertainment was founded in 2003. Its slate includes The Kennedys for Reelz; multiple Peabody Award-winning 30 for 30 for ESPN; National Geographic’s Breakthrough, and Lifetime’s Cocaine Godmother starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“The Content Group was inspired by a commitment to transparent partnership, and the priority is to work with engaged, motivated producers who thrive on rolling up their sleeves,” Koch said. “TCG will be an extremely inviting place for entrepreneurial producers looking for a home that maximizes both their creative and financial rewards.” 

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