New coalition aims to boost Stamford media industry

STAMFORD — In the state’s fastest-growing city, film, television and digital production has emerged in recent years as one of the most-promising industries.

The opening last year of The Village, the home of reality show producers ITV America and Wheelhouse Entertainment, combined with the upcoming opening of WWE’s new headquarters and the prolific production at NBC Sports’ headquarters and the Stamford Media Center highlight the local momentum.

Now, more than a dozen media companies with operations in the city have united to launch the Media Advocacy Group. Backed by the nonprofit the Stamford Partnership, the new coalition aims to cement Stamford’s status as a growing media hub and spark continued economic growth.

In particular, the new group aims to increase networking and collaboration among industry professionals and advocate for initiatives such as jobs-based tax credits and loans that helped recruit a number of firms to the state.

“Often, companies within in the same industries are competitors, but we don’t view it that way. We want to bring companies together that work in the same industry because we see as it as a way to build bridges and build a workforce,” Danielle Bibbo, ITV America’s executive vice president of business development and strategy, who played a leading role in launching the group and also joined the Stamford Partnership’s board, said in an interview.

“It’s everything from sharing best practices, sharing resources and vendors in the state to recommending employees whom we can share.”

The group’s members, who will meet quarterly, are keen to build on the industry’s recent gains in the area. At least 10 media companies have moved to Stamford in the past 12 months, according to the Stamford Partnership.

“We put this group together, and it had high energy and involvement from the beginning,” Stamford Partnership CEO Jon Winkel said. “It just shows these companies care about creating a network and community here. It’s not companies operating in silos.”

ITV America and Wheelhouse, which both have offices at The Village, are two of the exemplars for the newcomers. ITV America’s show portfolio includes “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Queer Eye” and “Pawn Stars,” while Wheelhouse-produced shows include “Hype House,” “Discovering David Dobrick” and “Inn the Works.”

The Village was developed by Wheelhouse Properties, which is part of Wheelhouse Entertainment’s parent company, Wheelhouse Group.

“We really want to create a Stamford that has all the things to draw talent — that’s super important,” said Rob Lia, Wheelhouse Group’s president and general counsel. “We need to keep building.”

Supporters of the Media Advocacy Group include NBCUniversal Syndication Studios, which runs the Stamford Media Center. The downtown complex houses the production of a number of shows, including “Judge Jerry,” “The Maury Show,” “The Steve Wilkos Show” and “The Doctors.”

“It’s truly a partnership among all these media companies,” said Vinnie Fusco, vice president and general manager of NBCUniversal Syndication Studios and Stamford Media Center and Productions. “We all travel in the same circles, we all know each other and we all support each other.”

NBCUniversal Syndication Studios’ parent company, NBCUniversal, also owns NBC Sports, which is headquartered at 1 Blachley Road on the city’s east side. The Stamford site is the home of NBC Sports’ Olympics production and shows such as “Sunday Night Football.”

In total, NBCUniversal employed about 1,075 in the city in the third quarter of last year, ranking it as the city’s eighth-largest employer, according to the Stamford Office of Economic Development.

WWE is headquartered a few blocks from NBC Sports at 1241 E. Main St. Later this year, it plans to open its new headquarters in the downtown at 677 Washington Blvd. In the third quarter of last year, WWE ranked as the city’s 12th-largest employer with about 700 employees.

Messages left for NBC Sports and WWE inquiring whether they were members of the Media Advocacy Group were not returned.

Other key goals of the Media Advocacy Group include advocating for state financial support for their industry, which they say is a driver of economic growth. The motion picture and television industry is directly responsible for more than $1.8 billion in wages across the state each year, according to data from the Motion Picture Association cited by Stamford Partnership officials.

In May 2018, the state Department of Economic and Community Development announced it would provide a $6 million loan to ITV America and a $3 million loan to Wheelhouse to support their expansion in Stamford.

ITV would have $4.5 million of its loan forgiven if it creates and then maintains for two years an average of 300 jobs by the end of 2025, according to DECD officials. Wheelhouse would have $2.25 million of its loan forgiven if it creates and then maintains for two years an average of 150 jobs by the end of 2027.

“One of the things we were looking at when we moved to the state was who is going to be welcoming and helpful to us as a company,” said Bibbo, who played a leading role in ITV’s move to Stamford.

“We were in New York, and New York really doesn’t embrace unscripted production the way that Connecticut has. We felt like Connecticut was the right home for us because of their incentive packages that they offer to the media industry.”

Lia also praised the state’s support.

“That was a major reason why we decided to come up to Connecticut,” Lia said. “Connecticut did a great job of getting us here.”

When she was a state representative and co-chairwoman of the state legislature’s Commerce Committee, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons pushed for tighter oversight of the state’s corporate incentives. But she said those subsidies had been effectively deployed to the likes of ITV, Wheelhouse and NBC Sports.

“The Department of Economic and Community Development is a great partner in ensuring that companies are given the tools to help them thrive in Connecticut and in Stamford,” Simmons said. “NBC Sports, ITV America and the Wheelhouse are all contributing to Stamford in so many ways, and we are fortunate to have them doing business here.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; Twitter: @paulschott