B2B information. The disclosure this week that former Time Inc chairman and CEO Joe Ripp has invested alongside Ridgemont Equity Partners in Backstage (the US media brand for actors) has reinforced the speculation that the company is preparing to get serious about international expansion. The former Time Inc boss has joined the board of Backstage and everybody is talking about a pipeline of deals.
Ridgemont has described Backstage as “the global platform that enables productions, brands, marketing agencies, and businesses to discover and work with highly skilled creative talent” and says it receives over 4,000 roles each week covering every type of project, casting all across the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.” But it’s really a US business which started out in 1960 as a weekly newspaper for actors.
It now self-describes as “the biggest online casting platform in the US, providing actors and performers with the tools they need to build a profile, land auditions and receive career advice. Not only that, Backstage is also the place for casters to find talent and post jobs.” Its presence in the vibrant UK market is overshadowed by the family-owned casting and recruitment businesses operated by Spotlight and The Stage. But there are New York whispers that – among many other targets – Ridgemont wants Backstage to acquire and/or invest in Media Business Insight (MBI), the private equity-owned UK publisher of two principal magazine-centric brands, Broadcast and Screen International.
MBI was a c£12m MBO from B2B group Ascential Plc in 2015 and its private equity backers Mobeus are now planning their exit from a company which has not been a spectacular investment. In 2017, MBI had revenue of £12.3m and EBITDA of £1.6m which represented a 25% increase in revenue and 30% increase in profit across three years. There have been some disposals which probably improve the scores but it’s a modest private equity performance. MBI has growing operations in paid-for digital media and events – and 40% of its revenues come from outside the UK. Other attractions for would-be buyers may include 35% of revenues from subscriptions and 15% from events including the annual Media Production Show attended by more than 5,000 visitors and 150 exhibitors.
MBI is a well-managed company with some long-established brands, solid revenues, and deep expertise. It has real international presence in the film business and the potential to do so much more. It’s just too small, which is why it has caught the eye of Backstage’s owners as a buy-and-build base for their international ambitions. But they’re not the only ones. The acquisitive Penske Media (publisher of Variety, Deadline and much else) may also be interested in acquiring the London-based company. They’re all on the list.