From left: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Blackstone's Joe Baratta, Kevin Mayer, Tom Staggs and Reese Witherspoon. Photos by Bloomberg; AP. Art by Mike Sullivan
Jan. 6, 2022 6:00 AM PST

Two years ago, Joe Baratta couldn’t figure out what Blackstone, the private equity giant he worked for, should do for its next move in media and entertainment.

The big TV companies, such as ViacomCBS and Discovery, were bleeding viewers as people cut the cord to cable television and streaming powerhouses like Netflix grew ever bigger. “We were trying to figure out whether any of these assets were investable,” said Baratta, global head of private equity at Blackstone, referring to media companies.

Then, in the fall of 2020, Baratta huddled with Kevin Mayer, a longtime Disney executive who had just left TikTok as CEO of the social media app. At first, Blackstone executives discussed the idea of Mayer consulting with the firm or managing one of its existing portfolio companies. But Mayer and a former Disney colleague, Tom Staggs, had a different pitch: Would Blackstone back a brand-new media company they were forming that would tap into the gusher of money going into streaming?

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