Kevin Hart is expanding his busy comedy production empire with the merger of two existing production banners and an influx of $100 million though the sale of a minority stake to private equity firm Abry Partners.
With the deal, Hart combines Hartbeat Productions and Laugh Out Loud into a single Hartbeat banner led by CEO Thai Randolph, who helped raise the capital and had been chief operating officer of both companies. NBCUniversal remains a shareholder after taking an equity stake in Laugh Old Loud in 2020.
Hart’s banners have active delivering theatrical movies (“Night School”), documentaries (Showtime’s “The One and Only Dick Gregory”), comedy series (FX’s “Dave”), Netflix titles (“Fatherhood,” “True Story”) and host of digital content for SiriusXM, Peacock, Roku, Peacock, PlutoTV and Vizio, among others. Hartbeat’s brand division has done work for Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out tour and Shaq Comedy All Star Jam, among thers.
Given the breadth of Hart’s comedy orbit, Hartbeat is well-equipped to turn out buzzy short-form content from Hart as well as such comedy stars as Tiffany Haddish, Hasan Minhaj, Amanda Seales, Deon Cole and Affion Crockett.
With the shuffle, Hartbeat Productions’ Bryan Smiley becomes president and chief content officer of Hartbeat. LOL’s Jeff Clanagan segues to president and chief distribution officer. Leland Wigington, co-founder of Hartbeat Productions, will shift to a production deal under HartBeat. Abry Partners partner Nicolas Massard will join HartBeat’s board of directors.
Hart hailed the opportunity to combine and expand his operations as a springboard to growth. Abry Patners has handled $90 billion worth of transactions since it was formed in 1989.
“The creation of Hartbeat and our capital raise with Abry represent a new era in comedy. This all started out with a mission to keep the world laughing together and I’m so proud our teams have delivered on that, putting in the hard work to build the most innovative and inclusive comedic storytelling company,” Hart said. “In an industry that loves to say no and close doors, I’ve been bullish about forging our own path and using our success to open doors for others. With this merger and funding, we’re taking the new blueprint we’ve built in entertainment to the next level and creating opportunities for a new generation of comedic talent. I can’t wait to bring the world more comedians, experiences, and stories with humor and heart.”
Randolph emphasized that Hartbeat wants to build an “end-to-end entertainment enterprise” that handles comedy content and stars from soup to nuts.
“We’ve scaled our business in an ever changing media landscape by delivering comedy to audiences wherever and whenever they want to laugh, and have demonstrated an unmatched ability to generate sales, subscriptions and eyeballs for some of the top entertainment and brand partners in the world, while driving cultural currency and conversation among some of the most coveted audiences,” Randolph said. “The merger and capital raise help us further scale and invest in the future of comedic entertainment, creating more high demand content and experiences at the intersection of comedy and culture.”
Hartbeat has organized its expansion along sector lines. Smiley heads Hartbeat Studios, which finances, produces and distributes high-end comedy content for film and TV. Hartbeat Media, headed by Clanagan, revolves around music, gaming, events and digital initiatives and distribution network such as Pluto TV’s free streaming LOL Network. Pulse is the branded content division that has done work for such blue-chip clients as Procter & Gabmle, Lyft, Sam’s Club, Chase and Verizon.
Hartbeat was repped in the deal by Evolution Media Capital and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.
(Pictured: Bryan Smiley, Kevin Hart, Thai Randolph and Jeff Clanagan)