RedBird IMI, the venture led by former NBCUniversal and CNN chief Jeff Zucker, has made its first media investment.
The $1 billion media, entertainment and sports vehicle (a joint venture between Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird and Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments) is launching a new non-fiction content studio led by Ian Orefice, the former president and COO of Time Studios.
The new studio, called EverWonder, will finance, produce and distribute non-fiction features, documentaries and series, with a particular eye toward projects that can be leveraged into brand extensions or new intellectual property.
“I think it’s an incredibly exciting time in the non-fiction space, and we have the ability for documentaries and live events and docuseries and truth-based storytelling to live on a true global scale,” Orefice tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “So every project we endeavor to do starts with that premise: Will this find a global audience? Will this have a global impact? And that’s really the basis of our creative approach.”
Orefice, who has known Zucker for years, says that he decided to pursue the new venture earlier this year.
“I independently this year made the decision that — while I love Time, Marc and Lynne Benioff, I love them and what they’re doing with the brand is incredible — but I thought it was the right opportunity to create this independent model, this independent studio that is separate from a sole brand,” he says. “And as I started to explore that opportunity, Jeff was independently building what he’s building with RedBird and IMI, and we started talking about the possibility.”
Details of the investment were not disclosed.
“I watched Ian launch an incredible production studio at Time,” says Zucker in a statement. “And now I am thrilled that we can partner with him and back his vision to launch a non-scripted company of his own at a time when that kind of quality programming is in such great demand across the globe.”
Time Studios, which Orefice founded in 2020, now accounts for some 25 percent of that company’s revenue, bringing in over $100 million, Time CEO Jess Sibley told THR earlier this year. Its projects have included Netflix’s Jeen-Yuhs, CNN Films’ John Lewis: Good Trouble, and the Time 100 specials for ABC.
While the overall market for content seems to be cooling off (at least in the scripted space), Orefice says that the non-fiction market shows no sign of cooling down yet, citing the value proposition of the content.
“Networks are looking for innovative ways to bring new audiences and new economics to their business and we can help do both of those at the same time,” he adds.
That experience of creating content for Time helped spark Orefice’s idea for EverWonder Studio, particularly around non-fiction IP.
“I think, too often, when you release a film, when you release a project or a series, that’s the end of the journey instead of the beginning of the journey,” he says. “I really believe that when a piece of content comes out, that should launch IP that has the ability to create a live event or conference series or merchandise or traveling immersive exhibit, and all that should be launched because the producer has the ability to control and own the IP.”
EverWonder will have a broad approach to content (“culture, sports, entertainment, global affairs. Wherever audiences are, and wherever global storytelling exists, we’re going to be there,” Orefice says), but it will be rooted in “truth-based storytelling.” To that end, Orefice says that he and Zucker have lined up a number of hires from the world of journalism and sports to develop new projects.
“So we’re using their source IP and their relationships and their storytelling across multiple genres to bring that to life as well,” he says.
RedBird IMI has a mandate to both invest in and acquire companies in the media, entertainment and sports sectors, globally. RedBird is already an investor in the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C., the XFL (which Zucker has been advising in recent months) as well as LeBron James’ SpringHill.
While a $1 billion investment is a large war chest, M&A (particularly in the sports space) could eat through it relatively quickly.
Given Zucker’s news background at both CNN and NBC, RedBird IMI is also said to be looking at acquisitions or investments in the journalism space.
To that end, whatever projects they do at EverWonder, on whatever topics they pursue, it will be grounded in journalistic rigor, something that Zucker was vocal about when he led CNN.
“As a producer in this space, someone that’s known Jeff for a long time, to be able to build this with him in this new era is really exciting,” Orefice says. “We’re not going to waver from what we’ve done in our career. We believe in truthful storytelling, we believe in its ability to resonate around the world. And I think when you see the journalists and filmmakers and the other talent that we will quickly bring in to EverWonder, that’s all gonna back that up.”