Plimsoll eyes indie partners

September, 19 |

Bristol-based producer sets out ambitious growth plans following private equity cash injection

Plimsoll Productions believes it can become a significant partner for other producers – either through IP collaborations or investment – on the back of its huge cash injection from private equity firm LDC last month.

Chief executive and founder Grant Mansfield told Broadcast the business is in a strong position to work with partners in different ways, such as helping smaller producers with prohibitive development costs or access to buyers.

“We now have the cash to bring new creative talent into the company. The reality for most indies is they can’t get through the door, and when they can, they’re not talking to people in power,” he said. “We can, and if we get a show away, there are ways of sharing the value that reflect what both parties have brought to the table.”

Acquisition targets

Plimsoll is also mulling over the potential to make acquisitions and investments. “We [the management] continue to run the company, but there’s a new board [post-investment] and clearly that’s one of the areas we’ll be talking about. Acquisitions are something we need to reflect upon and consider.”

Non-scripted companies in the US or UK with complementary skills are the most likely targets.

“Scale equals opportunity,” Mansfield said. “If you want a shot at the big projects with the big SVoD platforms, they’re not going to deal with small indies – that’s the reality.”

While LDC’s exact stake in Plimsoll has not been revealed, the deal, brokered by ACF Investment Bank, values the indie at $104.9m (around £85m) – which is about £5m more than was reported at the time.

Broadcast understands that LDC’s investment ensures a total of $60m (£48m) will be returned to the shareholders, who also retain their majority stake in the company.

Mansfield said he had initially thought Plimsoll would be bought by a media group, rather than take investment from a private equity business.

However, what was attractive about LDC’s offer was that it allowed Plimsoll to ramp up its global production while keeping its independence.

Mansfield acknowledged that ultimately the firm will go through another transaction when LDC chooses to exit, “and the likelihood is that that will be a trade sale”.

Bristol-based Plimsoll is best-known for blue-chip natural history, with shows such as the high-profile trio of Hostile Planet hosted by Bear Grylls, Yellowstone Live and Alaska Live for National Geographic, ITV’s forthcoming A Year On Planet Earth and Tiny World, a series for Apple’s forthcoming Apple TV+ service.

The indie is now exploring options in China and India, where Mansfield sees “opportunities to find partners for big-budget shows”. But it is also keen to prioritise broadening its slate and genre mix.

Plimsoll Productions is eyeing significant genre diversification as it enters its next phase of growth – but is planning to be highly focused on which buyers it targets.

Chief executive Grant Mansfield wants the Bristol-based indie to move into factual drama and fact ent and is already “having conversations with several people” about hiring an exec to take the business into scripted.

“We come across great stories that are often hard to tell in documentary form. I don’t think drama is a natural extension of what we do, but factual drama is a whole different ball game,” he said.

Elsewhere, he predicted further growth in documentaries following the appointment of former BBC4 controller and ITV head of factual Richard Klein in November 2018, particularly on SVoD platforms, which have “breathed new life into” the genre.

Plimsoll has also hired former Electus exec Saul Goldberg with a dual focus. He will head the indie’s US operations from Los Angeles, while also helping the business establish its fact ent credentials.

In 2018, Plimsoll produced 29 hours of programming for US customers, compared with 41 for UK broadcasters, and Mansfield “makes no apologies” that the firm’s productions in the future will be “definitely skewed towards the US and internationally”.

But he said the company will be laser focused on identifying specific potential customers, rather than chasing a wide range of broadcasters.

“The biggest challenge for people with international ambitions is how do you prioritise which buyers you’re going to chase? If you look at the profile of most successful producers, the key is not doing little bits for dozens of clients, it’s super-serving the ones that fit best,” he said.

“We won’t be meeting with 50 different buyers, or even 30. Once you’ve established those relationships, you super-serve them.”

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