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Lionsgate buys stake in Wicked Tuna indie

Lionsgate Entertainment is buying into Wicked Tuna producer Pilgrim Studios.

Craig Piligian 1The “strategic investment” means Pilgrim now has financial backing from the Hunger Games and Mad Men studio, which this week welcomed Liberty Global and Discovery Communications as shareholders.

The deal is thought to be worth US$200 million and believed to hand Lionsgate more than 50% of Pilgrim.

Veteran producer Craig Piligian (pictured) created Pilgrim in 1997. The company’s programming slate encompasses 47 unscripted series and 27 scripted shows, including Discovery’s Fast N’ Loud, Nat Geo’s Wicked Tuna and Fox Sports 1’s The Ultimate Fighter.

The firm launched a direct-to-consumer on-demand service, 1620 Media, last month. Lionsgate could use the platform to experiment with its short-form programming.

Pilgrim will continue to operate independently following Lionsgate’s investment, with CEO Piligian remaining at the top of the management team.

“This transaction scales and diversifies our television business by aligning Pilgrim, the market leader in nonfiction programming, with our robust scripted production operations as well as our premier syndication business operating under the Debmar-Mercury banner,” said Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer.

Piligian said there were “tremendous synergies” between the companies,” including the benefits of our respective relationships in the industry and the strength of Lionsgate’s worldwide distribution infrastructure”.

The news also closely follows the appointment of former Core Media Group executive Jennifer O’Connell as executive VP, alternative programming.

Lionsgate Television Group chairman Kevin Beggs said: “The alliance of our television assets accelerates our growth into an unscripted content business with tremendous upside and creates a whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts.”

Lionsgate EVP, corporate development Laura Kennedy and general counsel Wayne Levin, Linda Michaelson of Sheppard Mullin, Richter & Hampton negotiated the deal with Pilgrim general counsel and COO Gretchen Stockdale and About Corporate Finances Thomas Dey. Matt Thompson from Sidley Austin advised.