Sony Pictures Television buys independent producer of ‘Sex Education’

Sony Pictures Television has agreed to buy Eleven, the maker of the hit Netflix show Sex Education, as the studio builds up its stable of independent British producers with breakthrough streaming titles.

The deal to acquire Eleven for an unspecified sum will add to Sony’s family of two dozen production companies worldwide, which includes Left Bank Pictures, the London-based group behind The Crown, another Netflix success.

Founded in 2006 by Jamie Campbell and Joel Wilson, two documentary makers turned drama executives, Eleven shot to prominence after Sex Education was watched by more than 40m Netflix viewers in its first month.

The third series of the comedy drama, which revolves around a teenager and his sex-therapist mother, has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but shooting is scheduled to start in late August.

Eleven is also making horror series Red Rose for the BBC and White Stork, a political thriller starring Tom Hiddleston, for Netflix.

Wayne Garvie, president of international production at Sony Pictures Television, said Mr Campbell and Mr Wilson had built “one of the most exciting drama companies in the UK”. “Their ability to spot and develop new writing and acting talent, and their eye for a unique and compelling idea make them an irresistible pairing,” he said.

Financial terms for the deal were not disclosed but other acquisitions for UK drama producers have typically ranged in the low tens of millions of pounds. Given the context of coronavirus, which has shut down most high-end drama shoots around the world, Mr Garvie said the transaction showed “Sony’s underlying faith in the future success of British production”.

Under its chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony has spent more than $3.5bn in the past two years on beefing up content for its entertainment business, which generates more than half of its profits. In a shift from its traditional focus on making consumer electronics products, the Japanese group has recast itself as a supplier of global content for films, music and games.

Armed with $14bn in cash, Mr Yoshida’s biggest deal so far is the $2.3bn purchase of EMI Music Publishing in 2018, which transformed Sony into the world’s largest music publisher.

Sony Pictures Television also acquired Silvergate Media, the producer behind Netflix’s Hilda and Peter Rabbit animated series, for $195m in December, while Sony’s music unit spent a similar amount to buy a stake in Peanuts, the company behind characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown, in 2018.

Mr Campbell and Mr Wilson said the deal would provide crucial backing for the shows Eleven has in development. “No one in the world is better positioned than Sony to help us convert it,” said the founders.

As part of the deal, Sony will buy out Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund, which took a 20 per cent stake in Eleven in 2014 as its first investment in a drama production company. Tom Manwaring of Helion Partners advised Eleven on the Sony transaction.

Sony’s Left Bank Pictures is in the unusual position of retaining rights to The Crown, which will eventually allow the royal saga written by Peter Morgan to be sold to another buyer. Typically, Netflix keeps all rights to original productions such as Sex Education.