AMC Networks said it is buying control of cable pioneer Robert Johnson RLJ Entertainment, which operates subscription video services Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel.
AMC already owns 30.1% of RLJ and warrants that would give it 50.1%. It will be paying another $65 million to shareholders of RLJ common stock in a transaction that will take RLJ private and value the company at $274 million, according to AMC.
Johnson and his affiliates will continue to own 17% of RLJ, which will become an indirect subsidiary of AMC Networks.
“This acquisition furthers AMC Networks’ digital strategy by meaningfully accelerating our interests in direct-to-consumer ad-free subscription services that we own and control, in addition to providing us with access to strong IP as we continue to diversify our revenue opportunities, placing AMC Networks in a stronger position over the long term,” said AMC CEO Josh Sapan.
“Bob Johnson is a legend for good reasons that we are the beneficiaries of. His management team is extraordinary, having successfully transitioned Acorn TV from a home video and DVD business to a leading direct-to-consumer subscription service, and growing both Acorn TV and UMC in a competitive environment, by offering excellent, sought-after content and creating strong brands,” Sapan added. In addition, RLJ Entertainment’s majority stake in the Agatha Christie library—a content brand which remains one of the most popular and venerable—provides AMC Networks with valuable IP opportunities.”
RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn TV is known for its high-quality British and international content, and UMC (Urban Movie Channel), is the first subscription video-on-demand service created for African American and urban audiences. The company recently announced that combined subscribers to Acorn TV and UMC have surpassed 800,000, an increase of over 100,000 subscribers from Dec. 31, 2017, and representing an increase of 45% from a year ago. Earlier this year, Acorn TV and UMC launched on Comcast’s Xfinity TV platform and are accessible On Demand and on the go via the Xfinity Stream app and portal.
“I fully support AMC Networks’ acquisition of RLJ Entertainment. I commend the Special Committee for negotiating the transaction for our public stockholders,” said Johnson.
In October 2016, AMC Networks and RLJ Entertainment formed a strategic partnership with AMC Networks invested $65 million in RLJ Entertainment in the form of loans. The borrowing has since increased to $78 million and AMC Networks received warrants which, if fully exercised, would provide AMC Networks with at least 50.1% of the outstanding RLJ Entertainment common stock on a fully diluted basis.