The announcement Monday that Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the entertainment industry’s top four talent agencies, would be acquiring fellow top-four agency ICM Partners sent jaws dropping across the industry. The two companies represent many of the biggest actors, directors, and creators in town (Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes, Daniel Craig, Ava DuVernay, and Jessica Chastain among them), as well as many sports stars.
The entertainment industry is in flux, and this deal offers a glimpse of the ways Hollywood is frenziedly remaking itself. The consolidation, if approved, would create a behemoth that, as CAA’s Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, and Richard Lovett explained in a statement, “bolsters our collective resources, expertise, and relationships to deliver even more opportunities for our world-class clients to build their careers and their brands across multiple disciplines and platforms in an evolving marketplace.”
That “evolving marketplace” has dealt a number of tough blows in the last few years. These immensely powerful talent agencies had mutated into full-blown media conglomerates over the years, backed by private equity.
After a bruising fight with the Writers Guild of America in which thousands of Hollywood writers fired their agents en masse, both CAA and ICM finally signed on to an agreement with the WGA last year in which they agreed to phase out lucrative packaging fees. As part of the WGA agreement, CAA also sold off its majority stake in wiip, the production company behind series like Dickinson and Mare of Easttown.
The streaming wars have ushered in another level of chaos, as media companies devour each other in hopes of surviving the transition. This CAA–ICM union would create a similar agenting megalith that can do battle with those media conglomerates.
The pandemic sped up the dominance of streaming, as studios like Warner Bros. made the decision to drop its slate of theatrical blockbusters onto HBO Max and Disney premiered Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+. While Warner retroactively amended deals with its talent, Disney found itself being sued by Scarlett Johansson for breach of contract. (The suit is still ongoing.)
All this made it clear that streaming economics will be tricky for talent. Instead of box office bonuses (for movies) and syndication fees (for television), agencies will need to be pushing hard for bigger deals upfront. And, the thinking goes, clients will be better served by having gargantuan representatives to exert pressure on gargantuan media companies. As ICM’s Chris Silbermann commented in the announcement, “Together, we will build upon our accomplishments and entrepreneurial spirit, and continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the best interests of our clients, as well as empowering new, diverse voices within the industry.”
Definitions of best interests vary, of course, and the deal will need to get past the hurdle of antitrust laws. There also will be discussion about this combining of two of the top four agencies among Hollywood’s many guilds, since it gathers a vast number of the town’s most powerful talent in one stable. It’s just another convulsion in an industry resigned to constant transformation, for better or worse.
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