MGM Buys 55% of Mark Burnett Ventures
Reality-Show Producer Sought Partner to Fuel Growth
Keach Hagey and Ben Fritz
Updated Sept. 22, 2014 11:38 p.m. ETMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. acquired a 55% stake in "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett's various television and film production ventures, folding them into its storied but dormant United Artists banner.
The studio behind "The Hobbit," the James Bond series and "RoboCop," paid about $400 million for the assets, said people familiar with the matter. MGM is controlled by a group of hedge funds led by Anchorage Capital Group LLC.
The deal's structure is complex. MGM is investing in both One Three Media, a joint venture between Mr. Burnett and Hearst Corp. that produced unscripted shows like "The Voice," and LightWorkers Media, Mr. Burnett's venture with his wife, Roma Downey, which has produced scripted fare like "The Bible."
Mr. Burnett, a British-American producer, is widely credited with popularizing the reality-television genre with "Survivor" well over a decade ago and remains one of the most prolific producers on TV. As part of the transaction, MGM is also acquiring interests in unscripted shows Mr. Burnett produced, such as "Survivor," "Shark Tank," and "The Apprentice."
The investment caps several months of talks between Mr. Burnett's businesses and Hollywood studios, as the producer hunted for more money to fuel the growth of his television empire. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Mr. Burnett was looking to sell a stake in One Three Media, three years after he formed his 50-50 joint venture with Hearst.
"This started with Mark calling me with this idea that we ought to be open to—and to look for—a partner who could help us grow faster, get us into new formats, get us into new markets, new countries and new ideas," Steven Swartz, Hearst's CEO, said in an interview.
MGM's investment comes as studios are increasingly betting on television for growth to offset their slower growing, lower-margin movie business. Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures launched a television division last year, while Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton has said he is putting more emphasis on his company's television business than movies.
The new United Artists Media Group will make content across all platforms, including scripted and non-scripted television programs, movies and digital content, with Mr. Burnett serving as CEO.
The venture will also launch a streaming online video channel aimed at religious audiences featuring Christian music videos, sermons from religious leaders and short user-generated religious videos.
"We think they are unparalleled in this arena," said Gary Barber, MGM's chief executive. http://online.wsj.com/articles/mgm-buys-55-of-mark-burnett-production-company-1411408913