51 Minds -- which propelled VH1 to its best ratings by mining the network's "celebreality" genre -- will become an independent studio within Endemol, continuing to operate out of its Los Angeles offices. The company said it employs some 200 people.
Endemol -- owned by Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, Mediaset Group and Cyrte Group -- bought a controlling stake in 51 Minds. The company was formed by founding partners and principals Cris Abrego and Mark Cronin when the duo united their respective production companies -- 51 Pictures and Mindless Entertainment -- to make The Surreal Life, which debuted on The WB in 2003 and was resuscitated by VH1. Endemol USA has been in operation since 2000, producing some of the biggest shows in the reality genre, including NBC's Deal or No Deal, ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and CBS' Big Brother.
51 Minds has been under an exclusive output deal with VH1, which has brought the cable network 10 series in the past four years, many of them its biggest hits, including Surreal Life spinoffs Strange Love, My Fair Brady, The Surreal Life Fame Games, Flavor of Love and I Love New York.
"Cris and I are excited about joining forces with Endemol," Cronin said. "They are a powerful player in formatted network television and have the ability to exploit their programming on a global scale. Their expertise and resources will help to expand our reach and take our company to the next level."
"Our intention is to stay on course and continue to provide more hit programming for VH1 while simultaneously expanding to network-television and new-media outlets," Abrego said. "We will maintain our independent profile while taking advantage of our new international access."
"51 Minds is a very unique company that has demonstrated the rare ability to consistently deliver a high volume of hit shows," said Endemol USA president and CEO David Goldberg. "51 Minds has made a name for itself by developing the kind of pioneering content that Endemol has built its reputation on. The acquisition of 51 Minds infuses the Endemol Group with fresh content, expands the library and significantly increases our U.S. market share. I look forward with great enthusiasm to working with Cris, Mark and the 51 Minds team as we search for new ways to expand their already impressive business."