Wilkes’ move comes as Imagine Entertainment is actively seeking an influx of capital to fund its ambitious growth plans. The company led by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer since 1986 is seeking to bring in a new financial investor who will allow Imagine to continue to operate as a status quo with its current management team.
Currently, Imagine is in interviews with the British company Centricus Asset Management of a sale that would value the company at approximately $700 million. Imagine the executives declined to comment on the status of the talks, and a source familiar with the situation warned that further talks are ongoing and there is no certainty that a deal will be reached with Centricus. In early 2016, Raine Group became the majority owner of Imagine with an estimated investment of $100 million.
Wilkes’ expanded role requires him to oversee all documentary-related content for Imagine and its subsidiary Jigsaw Productions, as well as Imagine’s branded content, audio and live events divisions. Wilkes’ elevation follows the appointment last week of Tony Hernandez and Lilly Burns as Co-Chairs of Imagine heading all of scripted TV and film in addition to the Jax Media production banner that Imagine acquired in 2018.
Wilkes’ charter expansion was a natural transition for the executive given the other changes underway at Imagine.
“Justin has a real vision that we all share of what Imagine can be and where it can go, and so it just made sense,” Howard said. Variety. “Brian and I have a great sense of connection and collaboration with Justin. We’re just making it official.
Imagine has been on a growth spurt since Raine’s investment, expanding from its traditional stronghold in scripted TV and film. Imagine officially launched a documentary division, recruiting Wilkes from Radical Media in 2018, as well as a children’s and family division, branded content and an audio arm.
Imagine struggled to bring in a top lieutenant from the business side to work under Howard and Grazer. Former Endemol Shine co-director Charlie Corwin was named CEO but left after a year at the end of 2017. Corwin’s successor, former Fox and Time Inc. executive Rich Battista, has lasted about four months in the CEO role, stepping out in late 2019.
Wilkes’ ability to make Imagine a major player in the documentary field, together with Division Co-President Sara Bernstein, impressed the Imagine co-founders.
“Justin has proven himself to have a very high level of skill. He is able to take us from no documentaries to 20 a year. Frankly, that takes my breath away,” Grazer said Variety.
The restructuring that Imagine has put in place is the surest sign that the company is looking for financial investors and not a strategic investor to absorb its operations. Howard and Grazer have no plans to quit their roles anytime soon. With the management team now in place, Imagine hopes a new influx of capital will allow them to expand even further into hot areas for the entertainment industry like kids and unscripted programming, audio and live events. .
Wilkes noted that Imagine’s deep pockets allow the company to invest in intellectual property and other rights and in the development process as needed. The more time and money Imagine invests upfront, the better the terms of the deal when the project is finally sold.
“As an independent content studio, we can really treat each of our pieces of content as a standalone IPO, if you will,” Wilkes said. Variety. “We can build it, put it on the market and sell it to the highest bidder. Yes, in some cases it can be cash for work, but those savings seem much better if we actually own it and produce it and then sell it for a premium.
Howard added, “It creates leverage for our creative partners.”
Wilkes observed that one of Imagine’s biggest selling points is its ability to scale quickly in negotiation and production. At a time of huge demand for content, this attracts buyers and creative talent.
“We can look to talent and say, ‘Let’s just start doing it,'” Wilkes said. “As more and more talent is sucked into the ecosystem of these media giants, we can be much more nimble and provide talent with the ability to get things done.”
The best of variety