Creative Artists Agency is acquiring ICM Partners, a mammoth deal that would be the biggest joining forces of two major agencies since WMA and Endeavor. Sportico sister publication Deadline broke news of the deal, which is expected to close later this year. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Many details need to be worked out, as this came together lightning quick. There will surely be reaction from guilds and on anti-trust matters. But in a moment where content creators are getting bigger in M&A deals, why not agencies? The intention here is, after all of the drama of the pandemic and the ending of the packaging business after a prolonged dispute with WGA, CAA is doubling down on its commitment to the representation business. That includes not only film and television, but also sports, publishing and ancillary businesses.
The union of these agencies would bring its collective strengths and manpower together to make for more viable talent representation at a time when studio-owning conglomerates are leaning heavily into streaming as the future of entertainment consumption. While theatrical moviegoing will always be part of the equation, a streaming future means that it is incumbent on agencies and the talent they rep to make as much upfront as possible, because there often will not be the box office bonuses and break even gross deals that made movie stardom so lucrative.
As was seen in the ongoing lawsuit between CAA-repped star Scarlett Johansson and Disney over the diminished returns after the studio released the movie on a premium tier of Disney+ as well as theatrical. As was the case when WarnerMedia put its entire 2021 film slate for simultaneous release on its streaming service HBO Max, talent and their reps have no say in distribution platform switches. But artists certainly have found increased leverage by being part of agency-generated packages that appeal to both studios and streamers because these are ready to go films. Humungous artist paydays have resulted with packages like the Netflix deal for two Knives Out sequels that reached north of $450 million, to the $130 million-ish deal that Apple made for the Will Smith Antoine Fuqua drama Emancipation, to the recent deal where Christopher Nolan chose Universal as a new home to make his next film, about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in creating the atomic bomb during WWII.
While CAA and ICM find themselves in comparable businesses, ICM can bring much to the table here, from its powerhouse publishing business to its expansion into global sports with its acquisition last year of the London-based sports agency Stellar Group, a stronghold of soccer player clients in leagues all over the world. The current ICM Partners is a result of M&As after Jeff Berg and Rizvi Traverse were bought out and took many legacy TV packages with them.
M&As have always played an important role in ICM, formed in 1975 through the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency. ICM’s 2006 acquisition of boutique literary agency Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann brought on the agency’s current leadership, CEO Chris Silbermann and Managing Director Ted Chervin, as well as the bulk of ICM Partners’ TV lit department whose client list includes top showrunners Shonda Rhimes, Ted Lasso’s Bill Lawrence, Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, The Good Doctor’s David Shore and The Handmaid’s Tale’s Bruce Miller.
Following the Dec. 2019 sale of a one-third equity stake to Crestview Partners for $150M to fund international growth, ICM Partners has been on an acquisition spree that has made it a force in athlete representation in sports to complement its strength in TV lit and publishing. Starting with the acquisition of music-focused London-based Primary Talent International in March 2020 and the pickup of a significant minority stake in the Stockholm, Sweden-based boutique lit agency Albatros in August 2020, ICM Partners made its biggest acquisition last October with London-based powerhouse soccer and sports agency Stellar Group, which represents more than 800 athletes, to establish ICM Stellar Sports. This past July, the new sports division made its first acquisition with the purchase of Select Sports Group, an indie agency that reps NFL coaches, players and executives.