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Former studio and TV network chiefs tend to return to the corporate C-suites of the major Hollywood film-TV-streaming conglomerates sooner or later. Not Peter Chernin.
The film and TV producer, known for "Ford v Ferrari" and "New Girl," was chairman and chief executive of the Fox Group when the company greenlighted "Titanic" and "Avatar." But since leaving the studio fold in 2009 and launching his own company, the Chernin Group, he's remained independent.
Now Chernin, 71, is launching a new firm, combining film and television assets under a holding company with $800 million in equity and debt financing as demand for entertainment content grows thanks to streaming.
The new Los Angeles-based firm, called the North Road Co., bills itself as a "global, multi-genre content studio" poised to capitalize on the rising market for premium content, with Chernin as chairman and chief executive.
His bet is that in a world of growing audience demand and fewer major studios, being a stand-alone supplier of films and television shows will reap huge dividends.
The Fox film and TV studios were absorbed by Walt Disney Co. in 2019. Disney and Warner Bros. studios have increasingly become funnels for their corporate-sibling streaming services, Disney+ and HBO Max. The consolidation and rise of increasingly vertically integrated media giants has left a wide gap.
"In my opinion, the world needs a big, trusted, well-funded independent," Chernin said. . "Now that there is this explosion of content, and more appetite for content, the truth of the matter is that the number of suppliers has actually shrunk. And that is a real opportunity."
North Road will consist of Chernin Entertainment, the scripted TV and film business the mogul launched in 2010; the U.S. businesses of Red Arrow Studios, which North Road acquired in June; and 100% ownership of Words + Pictures, a nonscripted content business Chernin formed with partners last year.
Providence Equity Partners, a longtime Chernin backer, is investing up to $500 million in equity to support the company's expansion. Apollo Advisors, part of private equity giant Apollo Global Management, has provided $300 million in debt financing through affiliates.
Part of the company's mission will be to increase its international productions, as markets outside the U.S. become more important drivers of streaming viewership.
The corporate revamp of Chernin's empire follows a spate of sales and private equity investments involving brand-name production companies as the business of TV and film production surged amid the streaming wars.
Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine sold to Blackstone-backed Candle Media in a $900-million pact. LeBron James and Maverick Carter's SpringHill Co. was valued at $725 million after selling a minority stake to RedBird Capital. Hipster-friendly indie studio A24 scored a minority investment valuing the New York firm at $2.5 billion. Legendary Entertainment raised $760 million from Apollo funds.
The rush of deals followed Amazon's announcement in May 2021 that it would buy MGM for roughly $8.5 billion.
Chernin said he started thinking about his company's next stage last fall, during the frenzy of deal-making. But he wasn't interested trying to sell, he said.
"I think if I had sold out in the fall, I would have been selling cheap," he said. "I wasn't interested in just sort of cashing out and trying to make a quick buck. I'm obviously commercially minded, but I think this is a much better commercial play. We will make much more money in the long run."
Despite having his own company, Chernin has frequently been the subject of speculation that the latest big studio opening will bring him back to Hollywood's game of musical chairs.
Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, who ran Fox's film operation together for more than a decade, went on to head Sony Pictures' motion picture group and Paramount Pictures, respectively (Gianopulos was replaced at Paramount last year). Michael De Luca, who held big jobs at New Line, Dreamworks and Sony, has toggled between being a producer and a studio leader, most recently taking the co-chairman role at Warner Bros. Pictures with Pamela Abdy.
But Chernin has managed to succeed as a producer, putting him in a club with former studio heads such as Sony alum Amy Pascal. With producer Jenno Topping, Chernin's operation is responsible for hits including Oscar nominees "Hidden Figures" and "Ford v Ferrari" (the latter won two statuettes), as well as the most recent "Planet of the Apes" trilogy. In TV, Chernin's sitcom "New Girl" ran for seven seasons on the Fox broadcast network.
In both scripted TV and film, Chernin has gone deep into the streaming market, signing a first-look deal in 2020 to make Netflix movies despite a track record of success at the box office. Chernin said his company remains "completely platform agnostic" and believes in the theatrical market.
Streaming projects have included the "Fear Street" horror triptych on Netflix and Apple TV's Jason Momoa sci-fi series "See." Chernin's upcoming projects include a Netflix film based on the Idris Elba series "Luther" and an animated series for the streamer inspired by the card game "Exploding Kittens."
Red Arrow’s U.S. assets, acquired from European media company ProSiebenSat.1, include popular reality shows such as Netflix's "Love is Blind," Lifetime's "Married at First Sight" and TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress."
Asked why he's stayed away from high-profile studio and network jobs, he jokingly offered a one-word answer: "Sanity."
"To be clear, I believe I had the best job in the entertainment business when I had it," he elaborated. "If I wanted to stay running one of those companies, I would have stayed at Fox. ... I wanted a new challenge. I already did it for 13 years. Why would I go back and do it again? That just seems silly."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.