Former CNN Chief Jeff Zucker On The Hunt For Entertainment, Media & Sports Companies

Jeff Zucker, who ran CNN for almost a decade, will manage $1 billion in capital being contributed from Abu Dhabi-backed International Media Investments, IMI, and Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital Partners to go after attractive M&A opportunities in the media & entertainment space.

The funding goes into a partnership called RedBird IMI, and will likely pursue similar assets to those in the Redbird portfolio, which has $7 billion in capital under management and deep ties in the entertainment industry, most recently backing Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in November in a vehicle called Artists Equity (AE).

AE is an artist-led studio which broadens access to profit participation, fuels intellectual property monetization through creator partnerships and leverage a data-driven approach to content distribution. The first project features Affleck as director and Damon as star of a movie of the real life story behind the Air Jordan Brand. It’s being produced in partnership with Amazon Studios, Skydance Sports and Mandalay Pictures.

“Historically, the success of a film was based on its box office performance. Now, with the rise of streaming, the business behind filmmaking has intrinsically changed. However, Ben and I know that the power will continue to be in the hand of the creators, no matter which direction the industry evolves,” said Matt Damon, Chief Content Officer of AE.

Essentially, the venture is set up to put more of the profits from movies and TV shows into the hands of talent. Many in Hollywood have been upset with profit participation agreements which relied on the traditional revenue model where most of the revenues were derived from box office and DVD.

With streaming taking off and many content companies moving the films quickly from the box office window to their own streaming services, many high profile actors, directors and producers have claimed that they aren’t getting their fair share of the profits.

Another venture Redbird has a stake in is Skydance Media which was formed by David Ellison and has produced such hits as Top Gun: Maverick and the Jack Ryan TV show on AppleAAPL
Prime Video as well as Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning and Transformers : Rise of the Beast (both coming out next year).

Other investments include a piece of Fenway Sports Group (which owns the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and Liverpool Football Club) and LeBron James’ SpringHill.

SpringHill, which produces “The Shop” on HBO, the Warner Bros. movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and other content, was valued at $725 million when RedBird, Nike and Epic Games (producer of Fortnite) took an equity stake in the company last year.

IMI was established in Abu Dhabi’s Media Zone Authority and is focused on global digital media investments, although to date most of its investments have been in the United Arab Emirates (UAEUAE
). Assets in its portfolio include Al Roeya (an Arabic digital and print publication in the UAE), EuroNews, The National (also a UAE news service) and Sky News Arabia.

Zucker, the former CEO of NBC Universal, left the position after ComcastCMCSA
acquired the company in 2011. He later joined CNN in 2013 and resigned in 2022 after it was discovered that he failed to disclose a romantic relationship with one of his top employees.

“As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years,” Zucker told employees in a memo. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today.”

Zucker grew cash flow at CNN U.S. by 163% to over $900 million during his tenure there. IMI has a longtime relationship with CNN, which has a large media bureau in Abu Dhabi, and this helped pave the way to getting this deal done.