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Peter Chernin firm circling Endemol, Core Media

October 04, 2012|By Meg James and Joe Flint
  • Peter Chernin, founder of the Chernin Group, is in discussions to merge his entertainment assets with Dutch television giant Endemol and Core Media Group.
Peter Chernin, founder of the Chernin Group, is in discussions to merge… (Fred Prouser / Reuters )

Peter Chernin is poised to turn his boutique television and movie production company into a global powerhouse.

The former News Corp. president is in preliminary discussions to merge his independent entertainment company with two prominent reality television production firms, Endemol and Core Media Group, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Endemol is one of the biggest producers of reality TV around the globe. Its credits include CBS’ hit “Big Brother” and ABC’s “Wipe Out.” It has recently segued into scripted programming, producing the drama “Hell on Wheels” for AMC.

Core Media, formerly known as CKX, owns 19 Entertainment, which produces "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" for Fox. CKX also owns the licensing rights to the names and images of Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali and operates Graceland, the last home of Elvis Presley and a tourist attraction drawing more than half a million visitors annually.

If consummated, the transaction would immediately transform Chernin Entertainment into a mini-media conglomerate with movie production, prime-time scripted programs including Fox's "New Girl," and established reality TV hits such as "Big Brother," "So You Think You Can Dance" and "American Idol." 

The move also would catapult Chernin's group into a global programming supplier, by providing a bounty of content to sell to TV channels around the world.

Under the deal being discussed, Chernin could be chairman of the new entity, but not necessarily the CEO. Providence Equity Partners, which made a $200-million investment in the Chernin Group earlier this year, would likely help bankroll the deal, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

Another player is private-equity firm Apollo Global Management, which owns Core Media. Apollo also is the largest debt holder in the Dutch-based Endemol, which has been struggling to restructure itself under a mountain of roughly $2.75 billion debt.

Besides Apollo, Endemol's other creditors include Goldman Sachs and Centerbridge Partners. Entertainment giant Time Warner Inc. has tried to buy Endemol for as much as $1.4 billion but was rebuffed.

The talks with Chernin, which have been underway for about two months, are in the early stages and might not culminate in a deal, the sources said, though the deal could be worth at least as much as $1.5 billion.

Former NBC Entertainment Chairman Marc Graboff this year was tapped by Apollo to run Core Media. Graboff recently bought reality producer Sharp Entertainment, whose programs include TLC's "Extreme Couponing," Animal Planet's "Call of the Wildman" and Travel Channel's "Man V. Food."

Chernin, a long-time Hollywood power broker, left News Corp. in 2009 after 20 years with the company.  Since then, he has been parlaying his exit package, which included an incredibly rich production deal with 20th Century Fox film and television studios, into a thriving independent.  A year ago, his company produced the hit Fox movie "Planet of the Apes."

Apollo Global declined to comment. A spokesperson for Endemol was not available. A spokesman for Chernin, Charles Sipkins, declined to comment. Chernin was not available.

His umbrella firm, the Chernin Group, has been making investments in emerging markets, including China and India.  Chernin has also been interested in the digital and technology space, making investments in Pandora Media Inc. and Tumblr.

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