Boutique Agency Alleges TV ‘Cartel’

Lenhoff & Lenhoff, a boutique agency based in Los Angeles, accuses four major agencies of forming a TV “cartel” after much of its antitrust complaint against United Talent Agency and ICM Partners was thrown out in court.

The agency filed a second amended complaint Oct. 2 in U.S. District Court that essentially drags William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency into the mix, at least by name, accusing the four of engaging in a conspiracy to restrain trade and create a cartel to control the scripted television market, according to Deadline Hollywood.

The lawsuit does not name WME or CAA as defendants, but states in its summary that “Plaintiff alleges that Defendants UTA and ICM have agreed and conspired with WME and CAA to form a ‘cartel’ or oligopoly” in the market.

Lenhoff & Lenhoff consists of two agents, according to court documents. The suit accuses UTA of poaching two of its TV producer clients who were described as “exclusive” to L&L. The agency further describes an attempt to poach another client, saying a UTA agent “had been calling every three (3) months for the past two (2) years.” The boutique agency accuses UTA and ICM of interfering with contracts it had with the producers in violation of the Sherman Act, California Business and Professions Code as well as various guild rules.

The complaint also describes a scenario in which the major agencies might offer package deals that involve the nonpayment of commissions by the client – which “dwarf what the smaller agent (such as Plaintiff) could ever earn, under the “seven-year rule” deeming no contract in California can be binding overt that time limit, while allowing the largest agencies (UTA, ICM, WME and CAA) to compete unfairly with smaller Agencies for talent (by offering to ‘waive’ the 10% commission).”

The complaint suggests the major agents would tie talent to package deals and waive commissions in favor of splitting a production fee and profits, creating an illegal conflict of interest.

“Because these Agencies stockpile talent, as well as exercise control over the development, production, financing, distribution, advertising and even the technology for content delivery to the consumer, they have morphed into, Plaintiff alleges, producers, de-facto employers, apex predators and ‘UBER AGENCIES,’” the complaint states.