As mergers and acquisitions have shaken up Hollywood, all eyes have been on A24 — recently rumored to be floating a sale for up to $3 billion. Would the nine-year-old indie tastemaker behind Oscar-winners like “Moonlight” and hit series like “Euphoria” cash in on the fervor that’s led to rich deals for Hello Sunshine and MGM? The answer, at least for now, is no.
IndieWire has confirmed that A24 has hired its very first CFO in J.B. Lockhart, who has served for the last four years as the CFO of the NBA. His charge is clear: lead the company’s continued global expansion. And with previous experience in venture capital and at Disney working to identify merger and acquisition targets, industry sources say it’s possible A24 hopes that the Lockhart-led growth is in preparation for a possible sale or public offering down the road — or even to acquire other companies itself.
“To me it means they are serious about raising capital and considering M&A,” one executive said.
While A24 made its name as the North American distributor of auteur projects like “The Bling Ring,” “The Witch,” and “The Lobster,” in recent years production has become as much as 80 percent of its business. This year alone that includes 17 features and 14 series worldwide. The company prefers to own the world and sell international rights for its own productions.
While theatrical releases like “Hereditary” have helped the company’s brand recognition soar to enviable levels, it maintains a nimbleness for a wide range of sales plans in the age of streaming: It sold the Ilana Glazer-starring horror movie “False Positive” to Hulu late last year. And it sold the North American and Latin American rights for its Val Kilmer portrait “Val” to Amazon earlier this year, but held on to “Green Knight” and “Zola” for domestic theatrical release this summer. “Zola” headed to PVOD three weeks after its theatrical release.
The company’s wide range of partnerships are visible in its expanding TV production slate, which includes Hulu’s “Ramy” and HBO’s Emmy-winning “Euphoria.” It also has a film output deal with Showtime, while some of its most popular films like “Uncut Gems” and “The Florida Project” are streaming on Netflix. In 2018 it signed a multi-year deal with Apple to produce films for Apple TV+.
Though he’s coming from another industry, Lockhart is well poised to tackle A24’s global ambitions. At the NBA he helped oversee the league’s international expansion, including the launch of the Basketball Africa League in 2019. CNBC recently reported that he had been tasked at courting private equity investors for the NBA. Similarly, when A24 wanted to expand its international footprint in 2016, it hired former Goldman Sachs and media investment exec Sasha Lloyd.
“They don’t limit their search by specific applied experience,” said Cinetic Media’s John Sloss, who has worked with A24. “I think they’ve been pretty disciplined looking for the smartest, best executives.”
One piece of Lockhart’s resume does jump out: Before his time at the NBA and in venture capital, he worked at the Walt Disney Company’s Strategic Planning Group, where he focused on business development and M&A initiatives.
“My bet is they’re either looking for a sale, or they’re going to go on an acquisitions spree. I don’t think this is for the public markets,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman and CEO of private equity firm Patriarch Organization. “You need to have someone who can speak the vernacular and make a deal that’s most credible and salable.”
Schiffer noted that it’s not unusual for entertainment companies to go without CFOs, but that they often hire people for that job when they hit around 100 employees (A24 has over 125).
One senior agent put A24’s growth ambitions this way: “It’s brand extension, no different from what other companies are doing: investing in other companies that appear to be bigger than their core business.”
Last month A24 was rumored to be floating a sale with a valuation between $2.5 billion-$3 billion, a number that was met with skepticism by many in the industry. It came on the heels of Amazon’s plan to pay $8.45 billion for MGM, and more recently a deal by former Disney execs to launch a streaming arms-dealer with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine as its first acquisition. That deal valued the company, producer of “The Morning Show,” at $900 million, a figure whose size came thanks to the way tech companies assess assets’ value.
And last month, Universal and Peacock closed a deal to pay over $400 million for a new “Exorcist” trilogy. The deal for the hot IP was reminiscent of Netflix’s pact earlier this year for two sequels to Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” for a similar price.
Anne Thompson contributed reporting.