When IMG Media initially bought Darlow Smithson and Tiger Aspect Productions last spring, industry pundits must have scratched their heads. It didn’t seem like a logical match for the content production and distribution arm of IMG, which dubs itself the world’s premier sports, entertainment and media company, to be eager to scoop up companies known for specialist factual production, adventure and wildlife.
For the indies’ part, much of the allure may have been that their brands remained intact in the deal. ‘We’ve always been very keen to ensure that we didn’t damage the brands we’re acquiring,’ says IMG Media’s recently appointed SVP of production and distribution operations Martin Baker. ‘They were looking for somewhere that could help them leverage opportunities and become bigger, and we felt that would be best done whilst maintaining their identities and the thing that makes them special in the eyes of people who buy programs from them.’
So, while Baker admits the indies ‘probably might not of thought of [IMG Media] at the top of their list because of our background in sports and our near abstinence in things that aren’t sports,’ it’s IMG’s capabilities and people that helped seal the deal. Plus, if you look beyond its sports-heavy past, IMG does know factual, largely because it has a tradition of producing it with TWI (as its production arm was previously known). Another reason the UK prodcos were interested in joining IMG is its worldwide footprint – Baker says the company has a sales presence in over two dozen territories and over 50 offices worldwide.
After joined IMG Media roughly two years ago as commercial director of subsidiary TWI, Baker is excited in his new role, which sees him deciphering the nuances of the strategy in each area of IMG Media. ‘And those are different strategy when developing the animation department in Tiger or the factual business or the scripted and comedy and entertainment businesses. I’m spending most of my time understanding what they’re trying to do, how they’re trying to go about it, and how we can help them deliver those targets – and maybe even do better,’ he says.
That’s a tall order in itself, but it doesn’t end there – Baker also oversees IMG’s archive business. He notes that in addition to its wealth of sports programming, the archive contains plenty of non-fiction. That includes about 30 hours’ worth of a series produced by TWI called The Color of War that uses original color footage of wwii with letters and diaries of service personnel and their families.
In addition to internally produced programming, Baker says the archive represents several third-party indie producers as a distribution business. For example, it recently began representing a package of autumn programs from National Geographic in the US. ‘Distribution machinery is hungry for content,’ says Baker. ‘I’d love to have the problem of having so much stuff produced in-house that we found it difficult to cope with third-party material coming in, but I don’t think that problem is likely to arise.’
Less than a week after being promoted, Baker revealed his goal in his new post, and praised the execs with whom he’s working from Darlow Smithson and Tiger Aspect. ‘They are, by any standards, operating at the top of their game, and are class leaders in their genres. It’s really wonderful to persuade them that we’re the right people to work with, and to be able to keep them here and keep them performing and growing is just fantastic. If I can help do that, that would be just the ticket.’