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Pan-European broadcaster Sky has continued the growth of its international production and distribution business with the acquisition of a majority stake in one of the UK’s leading independent production companies, True North, and an investment in UK-based television drama production company from Chris Wright and Mick Pilsworth, Chrysalis Vision.
Over the last three years, Sky has expanded its production capabilities, under the Sky Vision banner, with a series of investments in select strategic partners, to sit alongside its wholly-owned production business Sky Vision Productions.
At the same time, Sky Vision has grown its international distribution business, distributing the highest quality content globally, becoming the distribution partner for a series of successful Sky Originals, for Sky’s acquired production companies, and third-party producers.
True North, which was founded in 2001 and is run by the highly-respected factual producers Jess Fowle and Andrew Sheldon, comes with an impressive track record, and is the biggest factual indie in the North of England. The company, which was previously backed by Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund, is headquartered in Leeds with a second base in Manchester, and is responsible for a number of hit series, including A New Life in the Sun, Teen Mom UK, Building the Dream, Homes by the Sea, Junior Vets on Call, The Lie Detective and Breaking the Silence Live.
Working across a number of genres including factual, features, children’s and reality, True North is responsible for some of the most enduring factual shows in recent times with many of its brands running to multiple seasons and selling across the world. Most recently, it has focused on developing popular factual entertainment shows and formats.
True North will continue to grow its bases in Leeds and Manchester and remain committed to developing a strong production business in the north of England. As Sky becomes the majority shareholder, Channel 4 exits its investment entirely.
The investment is the latest stage in the northern indie’s growth that has seen it develop from start-up to a multi-genre producer regularly employing in excess of 150 people across its bases in Leeds and Manchester.
The company was among the first to receive investment from Channel 4’s £20 million Indie Growth Fund in 2014. The Fund was set up by the broadcaster to help support creative companies scale their business and get to the next stage of growth.
The deal represents Channel 4’s first full Indie Growth Fund exit. The not-for-profit commercial broadcaster will plough all returns from its commercial investments back into original UK content and the Fund. Since Channel 4’s investment True North’s portfolio of work has continued to expand, seeing the company win a raft of commissions with key UK broadcasters, with its content airing in almost every international territory.
As part of True North’s growth strategy, the company has recently been focused on developing formatted factual entertainment shows for international markets and has had significant success – including a number of international format sales – with The Lie Detective.
Sheldon said that this latest move was part of a strategy to take the company into the rapidly expanding international market for TV production. “Being aligned to Channel 4 has been a terrific experience. Although they won’t be investors anymore we’re really looking forward to continuing our creative partnership with the channel. We’re now well placed to deliver on a new set of ambitions in the global market, and we think Sky are the perfect partners to help achieve that.”
Fowle said: “We’ve grown and nurtured True North for the last sixteen years so it was absolutely crucial to find the right partner. We had a lot of interest from potential investors but Jane Millichip and her team demonstrated that they understand and value not just our content, but our culture, and that proved irresistible.”
Jane Millichip, Managing Director at Sky Vision, said: “True North has an incredible track record, and we’re really excited to have the opportunity to work with two renowned industry figures in Jess Fowle and Andrew Sheldon to develop more top quality programming. This acquisition builds on the work we have done over the last few years to create a European powerhouse for content production and distribution.”
“We’re delighted to be working with Sky, one of the most exciting and ambitious brands in the global TV industry, to help us achieve our international ambitions,” added Sheldon and Fowle. “Our previous investment partners Channel 4 were always going to be a hard act to follow. But Jane and her team showed an instinctive understanding and respect, not just for our content but for our culture too, and that proved irresistible.”
David Abraham, Chief Executive at Channel 4 said: “We set up the Indie Growth Fund to help support creative UK companies get to the next level – and in just two years we’ve helped secure a strong future for True North. In this time, and with Channel 4’s support, Andrew and Jess have built one of the biggest factual indies in the country and established an important training ground for new and diverse creative talent in the north. The return on our investment in True North will support our ongoing commitment to the UK wide creative sector.”
Sky has also invested in UK-based television drama production company, Chrysalis Vision, which was founded by experienced media executives Chris Wright CBE, Mick Pilsworth, Roger Parry CBE and Luke Johnson, who have a strong track record in producing long-running drama series.
Led by Mick Pilsworth (CEO), the Chrysalis Vision team includes Sue Gibbs as Creative Director and Clova McCallum as Development Executive, and has a substantial, wide-ranging slate in development.
“We’re excited to be investing in True North. Jess and Andrew have a fantastic reputation for creating and delivering high quality returnable series,” declared Millichip. “We’re also delighted to be working with Mick and Chris, who have a great track record in building successful, creative businesses, and the whole team at Chrysalis Vision which will bolster our drama ambitions.”
“I am delighted to welcome Sky as a shareholder in the business and we all look forward to working with Sky’s Content team, and with Sky Vision, to develop, produce and distribute long-running prime-time television drama series with worldwide appeal and long-term value,” commented Wright. “This new arrangement gives our team the resources and contacts to take the business forward.”
As part of the agreements, Sky Vision will become the commercial and distribution partner for content, worldwide, for both True North and Chrysalis Vision, with the companies benefitting from the expertise of Sky Vision’s international sales teams. Existing terms with other broadcasters and distributors remain unchanged.