Sky buys stakes in UK production companies

Jess Fowle

Jess Fowle

Sky has acquired a majority stake in a northern England-based production company, True North, marking the European pay TV operator’s latest round of investment in the UK production sector.

Sky has also taken an undisclosed stake in Chrysalis Vision, the drama production vehicle Chris Wright and Mick Pilsworth set up two years ago.

The True North deal hands Sky control of Leeds-based indie, which is behind programmes such as MTV’s Teen Mom UK, CBBC’s Junior Vets and Channel 4’s A New Life in the Sun.

True North founders Jess Fowle and Andrew Sheldon will remain with the production company following the investment, as will managing director Marc Allen and executive producer Fiona O’Sullivan, who runs the firm’s Manchester base.

Minority shareholder Channel 4 is cashing out as a result of the deal, marking the first time it has exited an indie it invested in through its Growth Fund. True North was among the first companies Channel 4 bought into in August 2014.

UK broadcaster Channel 4 earlier this month used cash from its Growth Fund to buy into Scottish prodco Firecrest Films.

“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,” said David Abraham, CEO at Channel 4.”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.”

Channel 4 and Sky are co-investors in digital rights management business TRX.

True North and Chrysalis Vision are now joining a stable of Sky producers that also includes New York-based Jupiter Entertainment and Great British Bake Off creator Love Productions. Internally, it has also expanded distribution vehicle Sky Vision into production through its Sky Vision Productions banner.

For Chrysalis, Sky’s investment comes after Zinc Media (aka Ten Alps) bought a 12% stake in July 2015.

“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,” said Chrysalis Vision chairman Wright. “This new arrangement gives our team the resources and contacts to take the business forward.”

Sky Vision will now be commercial and distribution rights owner to both True North and Chrysalis Vision.

“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,” said Jane Millichip, MD of Sky’s production and distribution arm, Sky Vision. “This acquisition builds on the work we have done over the last few years to create a European powerhouse for content production and distribution.”

True North co-founder Sheldon said the move was part of the company’s strategy to move further into the international production sector.

“Being aligned to Channel 4 has been a terrific experience,” he said. “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 added there had been “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”.

Fowle and Sheldon set up True North in 2001 with Glyn Middleton, as part of a plan to establish a major TV production business outside the UK. The company often employs around 150 employees in Leeds and Manchester.

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