ITV pays £103.5m for controlling stake in academy award-winning Bristol TV production company

June 16, 2022

ITV has acquired a majority stake in Bristol-based TV production company Plimsoll, the world’s largest independent producer of natural history programmes, in a deal that values it at £131m.

Founded in based in Bristol in 2013, it also now has offices in LA and Cardiff and has produced more than 70 wildlife, documentary and factual entertainment series for broadcasters such as Netflix, Disney, Apple and Natural Geographic. 

Its programmes include Tiny World and Giant World for Apple+; Hostile Planet and Supernatural Planet for Disney; Night on Earth and Animal for Netflix and Channel 4’s Handmade: Britain’s Best Woodworker.

It has also used innovative strategies to extend the global reach of its content and last year embarked on its first co-production series with ITV – the upcoming Stephen Fry-narrated landmark documentary series A Year on Planet Earth – which involved forming commercial partnerships with international broadcasters, including Tencent in China, Fox Nation in the US and Ard Group in Germany

ITV acquired the 79.5% stake from mid-market private equity firm LDC, founder and chief executive Grant Mansfield and other existing shareholders for £103.5m cash.

This includes £85.5m payable to the existing shareholders and the repayment of Plimsoll’s financial net indebtedness at completion, expected to be approximately £17.6 million.

The outstanding 20.5% will be held by Grant Mansfield, a former ITV factual boss, and other members of the management team and strategic investors of Plimsoll, with ITV having an option of also acquiring it.

LDC initially bought an undisclosed minority stake in Plimsoll in 2019 to support its management team’s ambitious growth strategy.

At the time the company was valued at around £80m. Since then it has grown annual sales from £35m to £50m, with earnings before tax in the year to 31 August 2021 of £10m – earning it places this year in The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 and International Track 200 tables.

With LDC’s support, Plimsoll has invested in its natural history and documentary programming, launched a factual drama division and pursued further growth, both organically and through acquisition.

In 2020 it acquired Brighton-based specialist distribution and rights management company Magnify Media, which now distributes to 75 countries worldwide through its network.

In the same year Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees joined its board as a non-executive director, a role in which he provides strategic advice to the board on matters such as commercial opportunities, talent, diversity and sustainability.

Plimsoll has also appointed US entertainment industry veteran Mark Itkin to its board to advise on strategy.

Plimsoll will remain an independent brand following the transaction with its existing management and Bafta, Emmy and Academy award-winning creative teams continuing to run the business while playing a key role in programme development to maintain Plimsoll’s creative pipeline.

ITV said its acquisition would help Plimsoll continue to expand its premium factual offering, while supporting ITV’s strategy of growing its international content business, ITV Studios.

The broadcaster plans to leverage Plimsoll’s strong relationships with global streaming services and take advantage of increasing demand for natural history and factual programming.

Grant Mansfield said: “The last few years have been an exceptional time for our business. We’ve achieved record growth and continued to thrill audiences with powerful stories that celebrate the world we live in.

“We have really valued our partnership with LDC. The team has supported and empowered us to achieve our ambitions on our own terms, with creativity, inclusivity and the pursuit of excellence at the core of everything we do. We’re now excited to build on our successes with ITV.”

LDC South West and Wales head Dewi Hughes added: “Plimsoll has become a global standard bearer for British natural history and premium factual filmmaking and has established a pre-eminent position in its genres at an international level.

“It has used award-winning creativity to tap into a surge in demand for content and is now perfectly positioned to continue its impressive growth journey with one of the UK’s biggest broadcasters.

“We have enjoyed supporting Grant and his team on their remarkable achievements and wish them all the very best.”

LDC and Plimsoll Productions were advised by Houlihan Lokey (financial advisory), Osborne Clarke (legal), PWC (financial due diligence), CIL (commercial due diligence) and Deloitte (tax structuring).

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