All3Media buys UK celebrity talent agency

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The Independent Online

All3Media, the maker of the Hollyoaks TV series and headed by former Granada chief executive Steve Morrison, has bought the talent agency that represents celebrities such as Chris Evans, James Nesbitt and the "Ali G" creator Sacha Baron Cohen.

The value of the deal to acquire Artists Rights Group was not disclosed but it is understood to be worth "several million" to the founders of the agency, Michael Foster and Sue Latimer, who started the business in 2001. Other clients include the fashion gurus Trinny and Susannah and the actor Ross Kemp.

Mr Morrison, the chief executive of All3Media, said: "Strategically, this acquisition represents a new and very important move for All3Media. This is the first time our group has acquired a leading talent management and rights exploitation agency."

All3Media is Britain's biggest independent producer of television programmes, with an annual UK turnover of £157m. Its shows include Midsomer Murders and Shameless. The company was previously the television arm of the media group Chrysalis. It was bought by a management team led by Mr Morrison for £45m in 2003. The company's creative director, David Liddiment, is a former director of programming for ITV.

It remains privately owned, with the venture capital group Bridgepoint holding a major stake. Despite consistent rumours, it is understood that All3Media does not have imminent plans to join the recent rush of independent producers to the stock market. Competitors to come to market include Shed and RDF.

Asked about any flotation move, a spokesman for All3Media said: "We are keeping all our strategic options open."

The company says Artists Rights Group is different from other talent agencies in that it not only provides work for its clients but it helps them manage the rights to their appearances - by, for instance, setting up special companies to own the rights.

All3Media also believes that the "talent" is of ever greater importance to programme makers and that owning an agency brings them closer to actors and other TV personalities.

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