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2023 Ready, Set… Reset.  Doing More with Less

2023 Ready, Set…Reset. Doing More with Less

As we look forward to 2023, we expect it to be a year of resetting and cost cutting; a time where CEOs will be asked to do more with less.  Set against these macro-conditions, however, there are reasons for optimism.  

Authors: Chris Karl, Chief Business Development Officer, North America & San Datta, Partner, EMEA

The post-pandemic period of exuberance for much of the Media, Information and Technology sectors which saw sky high valuations, record private equity investment and highly leveraged growth has definitely retreated through the second half of 2022 due to an array of factors from macro to micro.  Whether you chalk it up to supply chain disruption, political turmoil, challenging capital markets, tightening monetary policy or the war in Ukraine, the second half of 2022 saw a dramatic fall of 33% in global M&A activity compared to the first half, resulting in total 2022 M&A volumes being down 37% on 2021.

As we look forward to 2023, we expect it to be a year of resetting and cost cutting; a time where CEOs will be asked to do more with less.  Set against these macro-conditions, however, there are reasons for optimism.  

Across our sectors, we continue to see revenue growth and profitability coming from companies that integrate tech-enabled services and expand offerings to drive positive outcomes for customers.  These powerful underlying drivers, coupled with robust corporate balance sheets, will continue to drive both growth and M&A appetite from strategic acquirers through 2023 and beyond. 

From a private equity perspective, an estimated US$2Tn of dry powder in the hands of global private equity funds1 and a rapidly evolving media and technology marketplace provides the foundation for more investor-led M&A and capital deployment in the coming year.  

While the exact timing is uncertain, we are confident that M&A in the mid-market will return to robust levels of activity as debt markets ease and the wave of digital transformation continues to roll across industries. 

So, what are some specific areas of growth and opportunity for 2023?  

Digital Services: consolidation continues 

Digital services growth, both geographic and through the marketing stack, will continue to thrive and, with a market of over $100Bn in North America and the UK alone, the market opportunity remains huge for the winners. The increasingly long list of private equity backed digital platform plays such as Dept, Bounteous, Material+, Wpromote, Valtech and Tinuiti will continue to scale through acquisition and reach further into adjacent markets bringing the CMO closer to the CTO and CIO.    

Events: face-to-face is back… and it matters 

At the epicentre of B2B lives the Events space, a sector that saw an unprecedented post-pandemic bounce-back during 2022. With the North American market forecast back at 97% of 2019 levels in 2023, and Europe at 96%, momentum has returned, and M&A is back on the agenda.  The physical channel remains attractive to business, the interweaving of in real live (IRL) and digital to create a drop-in, drop-out hybrid world has paved the way forward for the industry, and we expect to see buyers focusing on companies which enable this proposition, for example Clarion’s acquisition of Quartz or Brunico’s acquisition of NAPTE.  

Content Creation: a new revolution?  

Technology has transformed the nature of dissemination of content via a rapidly expanding universe of service providers that help media owners and brands capture, curate, distribute, and monetize their content assets, in turn driving a wealth of M&A and investment. Be it strategic, such as Unity’s $1.6Bn acquisition of Weta Digital’s tech division, or from private equity, such as Bridgepoint’s investment in multi-channel content platform, ITG, or PSG Equity’s investments into Backlight, we anticipate that new technologies will transform the way content is produced, automating much of what was historically done in studios, on production sets and on location. We are already beginning to see AI driven content creation technologies delivered through high-end animation and more sophisticated visual effects. 

These capabilities will bring down the cost of production which is a welcome trend in these inflationary times. 

The Metaverse: one for all or all for fun?  

Although we are not at a mass adoption point for Web 3.0 or VR/AR, demand for connected communication, gaming, eSports and content will play into the metaverse becoming more than just a concept for many.  Indeed, we anticipate more investment and M&A activity in the core technologies that drive Web 3.0, in service providers and technology tools that help B2B users and in connected consumer content.

Witness for example, Microsoft’s government contested $69Bn acquisition of games publisher Activision or, on a smaller scale, Arogo Capital’s $665Mn acquisition of EON Reality, a provider of AR/VR solutions for virtual offices. 

CTV: a new advertising battleground

The “Future of TV” is here as the connected TV (CTV) market is the fastest growing media channel at over 23% in 2022 and forecasted growth will continue in the coming year as Netflix introduces an ad supported tier.  Advanced formats will be introduced, and M&A will follow, with deals like LionTree’s acquisition of Transmit.Live to start the year.  Demand for content will drive innovations that serve individual homes with customized streams supported by dynamically inserted relevant ads and CTV moves into “must buy” status with media buyers.  

ROI: making it count 

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a real acceleration in ROI-driven sales and marketing solutions powered by content, data and technology which are increasingly taking budget from traditional advertising and marketing spending. The economic slowdown will only make these businesses more attractive to brands and corporates as every marketing dollar gets more scrutiny. Whether this is the “tip-of-spear” +$25Bn sales acceleration market populated by the likes of ZoomInfo and Cognism, or further up the funnel, the $10Bn content-led affiliate marketing world, expect to see large scale integrators looking to acquire ROI-focused capabilities.

Other catch phrases and technology we predict you’ll hear a lot more about in the coming months include Chat GTP, Applied AI, ESG, Sustainability, Staff Augmentation and Cloud Migration. 

You will also want to pay attention to Google and Facebook’s waning hold on advertising budgets, TikTok’s issues with their ownership structure in China, and Musk’s progress with remaking Twitter.  As these leading digital platforms face headwinds there is potential for upstarts, challengers, and the “others” to grow revenue even in a down year.  That’s good news for many companies.        

In Conclusion  

Contemplating what to watch out for in 2023, we are reminded that even in the face of macro headwinds, the digital and technology revolution charges on.   

Entrepreneurs and founders always find a way and often it’s on the back of technology that makes it all possible.  2023 will be a year where resilience breeds a new collection of winners, solidifies new and efficient use cases for hyped technologies, and the beginning of a new economic cycle of prosperity begins.     

1 S&P Global Market Intelligence

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Shortages in high-end animation capacity is driving M&A on a global scale

Shortages in high-end animation capacity is driving M&A globally

Rising demand from streamers and studios for high-quality animation content outpacing supply of quality capacity on a global scale

Author: Jonathan Davis, Partner at JEGI CLARITY

Contact us or email us at contact@jegiclarity-emea.com if you wish to learn more.

Background

With high interest rates, inflationary pressure and a looming recession, it’s not a surprise that streaming companies and studios are altering course and implementing revised content strategies. The heightened necessity to demonstrate shareholder returns, or at least a path to profit, means studios are looking carefully at their production slate to work out what to cut and what to keep.

While there is an argument to say that theatrical releases might be impacted by a downturn, studios, and particularly the streamers will continue to invest in content that attracts and retains subscribers. Naturally, genres such as “high-end” Episodic Drama as well as Feature Animation, could therefore take centre stage.

With several streaming portfolios underweight in Animation, the continued thirst for high-quality output is outpacing the industry’s ability to service that demand due to a shortage of quality capacity on a global scale. According to FTI Consulting analysis, CG Animation Services grew significantly in 2021 to $2.3bn and forecast to reach $2.9bn by 2025 driven by a material increase in Digital Episodic and Feature content.

A buoyant M&A market

This shortage of capacity has led to a series of M&A transactions over the last 24 months, with major platforms, such as Netflix, taking matters into their own hands by securing VFX and Animation capacity through a series of acquisitions including Scanline VFX and animation studio Animal Logic as well as independents such as Framestore who opportunistically acquired Company 3 and Method, and Cinesite who have made three animation acquisitions, looking to capture greater market share.

Seeking to capitalize on positive sector tailwinds, Private Equity have also been heavily involved in different transactions, including EagleTree investing in FuseFX, Aleph investing in Framestore or Key Capital Partners investing in Jellyfish Pictures, all transactions that saw JEGI CLARITY involvement.

Other key trends (for another blog) are leading to yet more activity, from evolving technologies such as Virtual Production driving Sony’s recent acquisition of Pixomondo, to the advent of Web 3.0 environments encouraging games engine pioneer Unity to acquire Peter Jackson’s iconic studio, Weta‘s tech and tools, in a sector defining transaction.

Conclusion

While the market is (perhaps) pausing to take stock of the wider economic environment, we continue to believe in the long-term health of the sector, with film, TV, advertising, gaming, theme parks and various incarnations of the “metaverse” all needing an increasing volume of VFX and Animation studio services.

With that in mind, we expect to see further M&A activity in the coming months as investors seek to cash in chips from the current incarnation of the “golden age of content” and VFX houses and Animation studios attract capital to invest in tech, build capacity and broaden capabilities. Following recent difficulties announced by Technicolor, perhaps one of the next defining transactions is just around the corner … an interesting time so watch this space!