Sony invests in UK production firm Whisper

Whisper Group has secured investment from Sony Pictures Television, a move that involves the UK-based production company’s exit from the free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund in pursuit of expansion plans.

The Whisper Group comprises live sports and non-scripted production company Whisper, Chapter 3 Graphics and East Media.

Whisper was co-founded by chief executive Sunil Patel, UK sports presenter Jake Humphrey and former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard. Its production portfolio includes coverage of the Paralympic Games and Formula 1 on behalf of Channel 4, the SailGP host broadcast contract and production of the BBC’s NFL coverage.

Whisper also produced Channel 4’s coverage of the inaugural 2019 edition of W-Series, the women’s motorsport competition. Coulthard is a shareholder in W-Series and sits on its advisory board. It is also involved in the broadcast production of football’s Women’s Super League and international cricket.

The move brings an end to Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund involvement with Whisper. In 2015, the Fund took a stake of up to 25 per cent in the company as part of a wider £20m (€24.1m/$26m) growth fund to support the independent production sector. As a not-for-profit public-service broadcaster, all profits from the Fund’s ventures are invested back into helping to fund the delivery of Channel 4’s broadcasting purposes.

In 2018, Whisper Films Limited reported its strongest financial results to date. Revenues in 2018 rose to £19.7m (up from £17.7m in 2017) on the back of the winter Paralympics production contract with Channel 4. Profit before tax was £1.95m (up from £1.89m in 2017). The Formula 1 production contract represented a high proportion of the annual revenues.

In December, Cricket West Indies appointed Whisper as host broadcaster for January’s series against Ireland. Whisper also recently retained its production contract for Channel 4’s F1 coverage in the UK, and, as part of today’s announcement, said it has a number of additional upcoming productions for 2020.

Commenting on the investment from Sony, Patel said: “Sport is at our heart and we’ll remain committed to immersive sports broadcasting, however, we have other ambitions which this move can help us to realise. We are keen to grow internationally and to develop formats that can help build an exciting IP catalogue.

“We’re grateful for the support of (president of international production) Wayne Garvie and his team at SPT. We look forward to working together to expand Whisper’s reach and exploring opportunities to develop new ideas around their existing assets.”

Whisper has been looking to diversify its offering to pursue a growth strategy that includes diversifying into factual and entertainment production.

Imagine Capital acted on behalf of the Whisper Group during the Sony transaction.

(additional reporting by Martin Ross)