Sky has taken a majority stake in True North, with founders Andrew Sheldon and Jess Fowle staying on as Creative Directors to spearhead the company’s continued growth.
Other key members of True North’s senior team – including Managing Director Marc Allen and Exec Producer Fiona O’Sullivan, who leads the company’s Manchester operation – will also be staying with the company to help drive international and format ambitions.
The investment is the latest stage in the northern indie’s impressive growth that has seen it develop from start-up to a multi-genre producer regularly employing in excess of 150 people across its bases in Leeds and Manchester.
The company was among the first to receive investment from Channel 4’s £20m Indie Growth Fund in 2014. The Fund was set up by the broadcaster to help support creative companies scale their business and get to the next stage of growth. .
The deal represents Channel 4’s first full Indie Growth Fund exit. The not-for-profit commercial broadcaster will plough all returns from its commercial investments back into original UK content and the Fund.
Since Channel 4’s investment True North’s portfolio of work has continued to expand, seeing the company win a raft of commissions with key UK broadcasters, with its content airing in almost every international territory.
Following Sky becoming majority shareholders, True North will continue to grow their bases in Leeds and Manchester and remain committed to developing a strong production business in the north of England.
True North currently has eleven series in production and is responsible for some of the UK’s most enduring factual brands. Key shows include A New Life in the Sun (2 seasons) for Channel 4, the Junior Vets/ Ultimate Vets brand (6 seasons) for CBBC, Homes By the Sea (5 seasons) and Building the Dream (10 seasons) for More4, and Teen Mom UK (2 seasons) for MTV.
As part of True North’s growth strategy, the company has recently been focused on developing formatted factual entertainment shows for international markets and has had significant success – including a number of international format sales – with their new Channel 4 series The Lie Detective.
Going forward, Sky’s international production and distribution arm, Sky Vision, will represent True North’s new programmes and formats while the True North management team retain their creative independence.
True North was set up in 2001 by producers Andrew Sheldon, Jess Fowle and Glyn Middleton. At a time when there was a trend for ‘brass plaque’ regional indies, they were determined to build a truly indigenous sustainable TV production business outside London.
The company has grown to be the biggest and most successful factual indie in the North of England, winning numerous awards.
True North Founder and Creative Director Andrew Sheldon said that this latest move was part of a strategy to take the company into the rapidly expanding international market for TV production.
‘Being aligned to Channel 4 has been a terrific experience. Although they won’t be investors anymore we’re really looking forward to continuing our creative partnership with the channel. We’re now well placed to deliver on a new set of ambitions in the global market, and we think Sky are the perfect partners to help achieve that’.
True North Founder and Creative Director Jess Fowle said: ‘We’ve grown and nurtured True North for the last sixteen years so it was absolutely crucial to find the right partner. We had a lot of interest from potential investors but Jane Millichip and her team demonstrated that they understand and value not just our content, but our culture, and that proved irresistible’.
Jane Millichip, Managing Director at Sky Vision, said: “True North has an incredible track record, and we’re really excited to have the opportunity to work with two renowned industry figures in Jess Fowle and Andrew Sheldon to develop more top quality programming. This acquisition builds on the work we have done over the last few years to create a European powerhouse for content production and distribution.”
David Abraham, Chief Executive at Channel 4 said: “We set up the Indie Growth Fund to help support creative UK companies get to the next level – and in just two years we’ve helped secure a strong future for True North. In this time, and with Channel 4’s support, Andrew and Jess have built one of the biggest factual indies in the country and established an important training ground for new and diverse creative talent in the north.
“The return on our investment in True North will support our ongoing commitment to the UK wide creative sector.”
ACF Investment Bank advised the shareholders of True North on the transaction.
True North – Faber & Bishopp PR
Steph Faber or Tamara Bishopp
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About True North
True North is one of the most successful television and media producers in the UK – creating smart contemporary shows and devising entertaining factual formats.
Highly trusted suppliers to all the main UK broadcasters who rely on the company to make popular content with style and integrity. True North makes numerous returning series alongside a number of high profile special projects for both domestic and international commissioners. True North has its own post-production house with outstanding facilities and resources. From its base in the North of England, the company creates sought-after content for global audience and is proud of its integrity and our commitment to the very highest production values.
Sky is Europe’s leading entertainment company, serving 22 million customers across five countries: UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. We offer the best and broadest range of content, deliver market-leading customer service and use innovative new technology to give customers a better TV experience, whenever and wherever they choose.
Sky has annual revenues of £12 billion and is Europe’s leading investor in television content with a combined programming budget of £5.2
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