Since leaving CNN a year ago, Jeff Zucker, the network’s former president, has been on the hunt for deals, flush with $1 billion in backing from big investors in the worlds of media and finance.
RedBird Capital Partners, a private-equity firm, and International Media Investments, a funder with connections to the government of the United Arab Emirates, are betting that Mr. Zucker’s record in the media industry will help him zero in on promising investments in digital media, sports, entertainment and news.
In addition to Mr. Zucker, the key players in the new venture, known as RedBird IMI, are Gerry Cardinale, the chief executive and founder of RedBird, and Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, an Emirati government minister who has spearheaded many of IMI’s investment conversations in the United States. Mr. Cardinale is the chief investment officer of RedBird IMI, and Mr. Al Jaber is chairman.
RedBird is committing $250 million to the venture, and IMI has agreed to commit the remaining $750 million. The men gathered to discuss business last fall in a suite overlooking a Formula 1 racetrack in Abu Dhabi.
Since Mr. Zucker started his venture last year, dozens of suitors have made the pilgrimage to his offices on Madison Avenue near Central Park in Manhattan, including former CNN employees, agents and corporate development executives. In those meetings, he has held forth on the future of entertainment, sports and news, weighing in on various investment opportunities.
Mr. Zucker has described RedBird IMI as “Candle Media but half the price,” referring to a company run by two former Disney executives, Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs. Candle Media has spent billions in cash and stock to buy and combine properties including Moonbug Entertainment, maker of the hit animated show “CoComelon,” and Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s production company.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Zucker’s acumen as a TV producer and corporate operator will translate to success in private equity, where profits hinge on finding great assets and shrewd deal-making. But he is aided in those efforts by Mr. Cardinale, a Goldman Sachs veteran with decades of investment experience.
Mr. Zucker has already begun to scout deals. The venture has held discussions to invest in digital media start-ups including Puck and Semafor and has also met with the founders of Punchbowl News, the Capital Hill-focused media start-up that was launched in 2021.
In the months since Mr. Zucker started RedBird IMI, he has begun staffing up. One of his deputies at CNN, Rani Raad, the company’s former president of CNN Commerical Worldwide, has joined the venture.
Mr. Zucker has also told confidants that, with RedBird IMI, he is interested in building a company that owns digital publications targeted at specific audiences, similar to Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue and The New Yorker.