ITV goes back to nature with £180m swoop

ITV Studios is buying 79.5 per cent of award-winning Plimsoll Productions, a nature film-maker led by founder Grant Mansfield

Category News
News Provider

Ties to streaming firms strengthened with purchase of wildlife film producer

ITV is paying up to £183 million for a production company behind award-winning wildlife documentaries in a deal that will boost its firepower in nature programmes and strengthen its distribution ties with streaming services such as Netflix and Apple+. 

The broadcaster and programme maker is buying 79.5 per cent of Plimsoll Productions, which is based in Bristol, with an option to purchase the rest of the business later. 

The deal will give an undisclosed payday to Plimsoll management, led by Grant Mansfield, who founded the business in 2013. The company has produced natural history hits such as Tiny World for Apple+ and Hostile Planet on Disney+. It has also made A Year on Planet Earth, narrated by Stephen Fry, for ITV and for Tencent in China, but which has yet to be released. 

ITV is paying an initial £103.5 million for the business with an option to pay up to £79.5 million for the remaining 20.5 per cent in 2028 if it meets its targets. 

After the transaction Mansfield, together with his senior management and creative staff, will continue to manage the business and play a key role in programme development to maintain Plimsoll’s strong pipeline. 

It is ITV’s biggest purchase of a production company in several years and will boost ITV Studios, its content division that accounts for about half the revenues of the group. 

Plimsoll Productions has a strong network with all of the global streaming companies and this acquisition will strengthen and deepen ITV Studios’ relationships with those companies. 

The firm said that the acquisition was another milestone in ITV’s strategy of expanding its international content business. It further diversifies ITV Studios’ production base and will enable the broadcaster to take advantage of the strong demand for content across the ever-popular natural history and factual genres.

Dame Carolyn McCall, the group chief executive, said: “Growing ITV Studios with an exciting pipeline of premium programmes is core to our strategy as we further diversify the business by genre, by geography, by customer and grow ahead of the market.” 

Shares in the group were marked 1 per cent higher to 68p on the news yesterday morning. Investors in ITV gave the group strategy an emphatic thumbs-down in March when it announced a new push into content for streaming, sending the shares diving by 28 per cent in a day. 

Mansfield sold a substantial chunk of his business three years ago to LDC, the Lloyds Banking Group private equity division. This, together with some management shares, is now being sold to ITV. 

Plimsoll had profits before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £10 million in the year to August 2021 and is estimated to have made £5.5 million in the six months after that. ITV said the deal would lead to earnings growth “from day one”. 

Companies House filings show that Mansfield owns between 25 and 50 per cent of Escapade Bidco, which in turn owns Plimsoll at present. He will also run the business under ITV ownership. 

Mansfield originally worked for the BBC before moving to Granada TV, a forerunner to ITV, and as director of programmes was responsible for hits including I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!. He later ran Zodiak USA, which produced Celebrity Wife Swap. 

He said: “The significant opportunities in the international premium unscripted market make this the perfect time for Plimsoll to join ITV Studios. There is a quite special strategic and cultural fit that will enable us to achieve our, now shared, creative and commercial ambitions for Plimsoll.” 

LDC said that when it bought into the group in 2019 it was valued at £80 million, but it had increased revenues from £35 million to £50 million. 

Profile: Animal world rates better than humans

Grant Mansfield, the founder of Plimsoll Productions, was steeped in the world of reality TV before discovering wild animals could be even more entertaining than human beings. 

After starting his career as a news reporter with the BBC, he moved into production and earned his big break when Driving School, a series about learner drivers, became a hit, attracting 12 million viewers. 

At Granada TV as director of programmes he oversaw Coronation Street and Emmerdale, but also helped launch I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. He spent three years in Los Angeles running Zodiak USA, whose hits included Celebrity Wife Swap, before setting up Plimsoll in 2013. 

An unnamed angel investor put up a seven-figure sum, enabling him to hire high-quality people, notably Martha Holmes, an award-winning film-maker and marine biologist. 

His home town of Bristol, the base of the BBC natural history unit, was perfect for recruiting talent. His timing was good too. Streaming services (known as SVods) were hungry for content and saw that wildlife films were a potent way of signing up subscribers. 

“We were lucky,” he told The Times yesterday. “We were able to surf the crest of a wave, which was the SVod platforms.” Nature could be sold everywhere in the world with just a fresh voice- over. It was also “culturally agnostic”. He said: “It’s dicult to find anyone who disagrees with the statement that pandas should be preserved.” 

Plimsoll expanded from a team of four to about 500 people including freelancers currently. 

Mansfield, 63, is married with six children. He declined to put a figure on his stake in the business.