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Creative Artists Agency says it will acquire the rival talent group ICM, combining two powerful stables of agents amid sweeping changes in Hollywood and the global sports industry.
The deal, which is expected to close by the end of the year, comes after talent agencies were forced to dismiss workers due to the pandemic-related suspensions of live events and costly delays in filmed productions. Financial terms were not disclosed.
It would be the first big merger of talent groups since the William Morris Agency combined with Endeavor in 2009. Endeavor, led by Hollywood impresario Ari Emanuel, was backed by the private equity group Silver Lake for a decade and went public in April. It has a market capitalisation of $12.5bn.
“This has a seismic scale impact in Hollywood that certainly must have the people at Endeavor talking,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants.
The deal will bring CAA’s clients — which include Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg — under the same roof as ICM’s Samuel L Jackson, Olivia Colman and Uma Thurman.
The private equity firm TPG invested in CAA in 2010, taking a majority stake four years later in a transaction that valued the talent agency at more than $1bn. That deal came as financial investors sought ways of profiting from content rights that soared in value as music and video streaming created new ways of monetising artists’ back catalogues and triggered a boom in television production.
The CAA-ICM deal comes at another inflection point, with Hollywood studios launching their own streaming platforms and potentially challenging the traditional way actors are paid for their work.
This summer Johansson filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney after it released Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time as its theatrical release. Johansson alleged that the decision cost her a bonus that was tied to box-office sales. Disney says the suit has “no merit”.
Bryan Lourd, co-chairman of CAA, said he was hopeful that such shifts in the media industry would result in “a better world” for the agency’s clients.
“We’re really excited about the opportunities our clients have in this new world order, and a driving principle behind combining the companies is to answer that challenge of the future,” he added.
Last year ICM acquired London-based ICM Stellar Sports, with an 800-strong roster of clients that includes a number of football stars, from Chelsea’s Saúl Ñíguez to Manchester City’s Jack Grealish. Its English Premier League strength compliments CAA’s dominance in North American sports.
Endeavor went beyond simply representing athletes with the acquisition of the mixed martial arts league Ultimate Fighting Championship. Emanuel told a Goldman Sachs media conference last week that he also saw a big opportunity in sports betting, an area the traditional agencies are unlikely to push into.
Schiffer said the question for CAA-ICM is whether they would seek to expand with further acquisition to compete with Endeavor and its public market valuation.
“What does it portend? Do they look at other acquisitions as Endeavor did with UFC?” he said.
Still, CAA is a dominant force in film, TV, music and sports. Besides its core areas of film, television and theatre, ICM has a strong books division. Both of the Los Angeles-based groups boast of their strength in emerging areas such as podcasting.
Lourd said the two groups had discussed a deal informally for years but that now the “timing felt incredibly right”.
“We will have more resources and expertise around the world to make things with the writers, directors, actors musicians and athletes on the field,” he said.