Kevin Hart has heard the lawsuits over the streaming industry that has rattled Hollywood since Netflix last week reported that it had lost subscribers in recent months.
But Mr. Hart, the prolific actor and stand-up comedian, does not buy it.
“There are too many different entities, there are too many different platforms, there are too many different places for the content world to die out,” Mr Hart said in an interview from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he is filming a movie for Netflix. “If there is anything, then it is now amplified.”
Mr. Hart has a great backer who supports his specialty. On Tuesday, Mr. Hart’s media company, HartBeat, said it had raised $ 100 million from Abry Partners, a private equity firm in Boston. Abry buys a 15 percent stake in HartBeat, said people with knowledge of the deal, and estimates the company at more than $ 650 million.
The deal makes Mr Hart the latest entertainment entrepreneur to take advantage of the private equity money spreading across Hollywood. In the past year, Reese Witherspoon, LeBron James and Will Smith have all sold shares in their media companies to companies looking to monetize the growing demand for content.
Valuations have risen sharply thanks in part to corporate interest. Hello Sunshine, the company founded by Ms. Witherspoon, was valued at nearly $ 1 billion in its deal with Candle Media, a new company backed by private equity firm Blackstone. Moonbug Entertainment, owner of the popular children’s show “CoComelon”, was valued at close to $ 3 billion in a deal with Candle Media.
Michael Nathanson, an industry analyst, said production deals with prominent artists would become more and more common as streamers focused on profitability. Media companies want shows and movies that have the best chance of winning new subscribers, and name recognition is a reliable way to do that, he said.
“The only way you break through the mess is by quality or established brands,” said Mr. Nathanson.
HartBeat is a new company focusing on comedy and cultural content, created from the merger of two companies affiliated with Mr. Hart: Laugh Out Loud, a digital comedy company that was conceived in 2016 as a subscription streaming service by the Lionsgate film studio and Mr. Hart and HartBeat Productions, Mr. Resin production company.
Mr. Hart, who controls HartBeat, resigns as its CEO but remains chairman of its board. He will be succeeded by Thai Randolph, who was chief operating officer for both Laugh Out Loud and HartBeat Productions. Jeff Clanagan, Mr. Hart’s longtime business partner will be the company’s chief distribution officer, and Bryan Smiley, president of film and television at HartBeat Productions, will be HartBeat’s chief content officer.
NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock, which has an agreement giving it the first chance to buy TV shows produced by HartBeat, will continue to be a minority investor in the combined company. HartBeat executives will also own shares.
Abry Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Randolph said both HartBeat Productions and Laugh Out Loud had been profitable before the merger, but declined to give details. More than 50 percent of HartBeat’s revenue will come from its studio division, which has agreements to produce shows for streamers such as Peacock and Netflix. (Previous productions have included “Olympic Highlights,” a real-time sendup of Summer Games, and “Fatherhood,” a Netflix movie with Mr. Hart as a grieving father.) The rest will come from a combination of companies, such as Content License and fire consulting work for companies, including Procter & Gamble, Lyft and Sam’s Club.
The merger discussions began in earnest during a July retreat in Los Cabos, Mexico, where about 60 employees from both companies were recognized after months of teleworking during the Covid-19 pandemic, Randolph said. In a hotel suite near the beach, executives devised a structure for the combined company, which included a relocation of top management.
Mr. Hart predicted that competition among streaming services would result in a market with several major players vying for subscribers, each offering separate content. He made a comparison with the sportswear industry, where established companies like Nike continue to grow. As long as HartBeat delivers great shows, it will last, he said.
“There will never be a time when people will not laugh, not have to let go of their shoulders and just feel good,” said Mr. Hart.