Amazon near deal to acquire MGM, WSJ says

Amazon is near an agreement to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for $9 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

An accord may occur as early as this week barring last-minute complications, the financial newspaper said. MGM’s board was briefed on negotiations on Sunday, the Journal said, citing a “person close to the situation.”

There are “no guarantees” an agreement will be reached, the paper said.

MGM last week reported first-quarter financial results. During an investor call, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay called reports about negotiations “speculation in the media.” Variety reported May 17 that Amazon was in talks to acquire MGM for about $9 billion.

The new report by the Journal makes it sound as if the studio’s relationship with the Bond franchise would remain the same. An excerpt:

MGM shares the James Bond franchise with a holding company owned by the Wilson/Broccoli family, who co-own the copyright to existing Bond movies and control the future of the franchise. The next James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” was repeatedly delayed due to Covid-19 and is now scheduled for release in October.

No Time to Die has been delayed five times, with three of those occasions stemming from COVID-19. The first two delays took place because of the replacement of director Danny Boyle by Cary Fukunaga. The movie’s original release date was fall 2019.

At $9 billion, an MGM acquisition would be the second-largest for Amazon behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, according to the Journal.

Amazon is a major player in streaming. MGM’s library of films and TV shows would be a source of in-house programming. Much of that library is from United Artists, Bond’s original studio, which MGM bought in 1981.

MGM’s library does not include classic movies and TV shows originally made by MGM before the mid-1980s. Such movies as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, and Mutiny on the Bounty are part of the Warner Bros. library.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m. New York time): Bloomberg came out with a story matching the Journal reporting. Bloomberg’s story says a deal could be announced on Tuesday. It has the usual caveats, i.e. things could change, etc. The story is behind a paywall; the site forced me off the story before I could finish it.

Bond 25 questions: The streaming edition

No Time to Die poster

What once seemed unthinkable — a new James Bond movie debuting on a streaming service — may be a possibity. Or is it? Naturally, the blog has questions.

How did this come up anyway?

On Thursday, Drew McWeeny, who writes about film, posted a tweet that raised the possibility. He has a reputation for knowing a lot of people in the industry.

McWeeny also publishes a newsletter where he elaborated. Here is an excerpt:

In the last ten days or so, at least six people have reached out to talk to me about what they’re hearing, and it sounds like those two streamers are currently the most actively engaged in conversations with MGM and, I presume, EON and Universal to pick up No Time To Die. I have no idea if other conversations have occurred or not, but I can’t imagine they’re the only two interested parties.

McWeeny also wrote that one figure he’s heard is for more than $600 million. But he also wrote he didn’t know if that was just one film or more.

Separately, the MI6 James Bond website and Bloomberg ran stories on Friday concerning No Time to Die going to streaming first.

MI6 said it “understands that those offers started at $200m are now heading towards $250m – just for the North America streaming rights.”

Bloomberg said Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has held talks with Apple Inc. and Netflix. The news service cited “people familiar with the situation.” MGM told Bloomberg the film is not for sale. The Bloomberg story doesn’t provide a specific price.

UPDATE (Oct. 24): Variety weighed in with its own story. The entertainment outlet said MGM was looking for a deal in the $600 million range, “a price tag that was deemed too rich” for some of the streaming services. Which ones weren’t specified.

UPDATE II (Oct 24): Dealine: Hollywood (a sister site to Variety) posts a story emphasizing MGM’s denial.

A troll on Facebook (joined in July, only three followers) emphasized to me how Deadline’s Mike Fleming has a special, close relationship to Danjaq/Eon. That’s another way of saying Fleming is an extension of the Danjaq PR machine. Whatever. Personally, I prefer a knowledgeable, independent voice on these things.

What happens now?

The Bond situation is very complicated. MGM and Danjaq LLC jointly control the James Bond film rights. No Time to Die is to be distributed by United Artists Releasing (co-owned by MGM and Annapurna Pictures) in the U.S. and Universal internationally.

That’s a number of parties that may have to be dealt with for any streaming deal.

What’s driving this?

No Time to Die was to have come out in April but was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). So it was rescheduled for November. But COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and cases are rising again in the U.S. and Europe. So now, the 25th James Bond film is supposed to be out in April 2021.

What’s more, MGM is a weak studio in an industry already facing changes before COVID-19. The company is owned by hedge funds who likely are anxious to sell the studio.

A streaming deal would deliver cash now while MGM can still be prepare to sell itself later.

But what about that MGM denial to Bloomberg?

That denial may have a short shelf life. Put another way, the denial is true today. The question is how long will it be true?

Apple seen as buyer to stock new streaming service (MGM?)

Apple logo

Apple Inc., which is preparing to launch a streaming television service, is seen as looking to buy entertainment companies to get a library of titles for viewing. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, comes up on the list of possibilities.

Earlier this month, Apple said its Apple TV + will go live Nov. 1 and cost $4.99 a month, $2 less than rival Disney +. The problem is Apple doesn’t have the library of titles that Disney has, which includes projects made under the Disney, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios brands. Marvel, in particular, is making new series for Disney + to go along with its various movie titles. AT&T, which owns Warner Bros., also is getting into streaming television.

Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance had separate stories on Sept. 13 raising the question whether Apple may buy entertainment properties to boost its supply of programming.

Here’s an excerpt from the Bloomberg story (which was picked up by The Washington Post):

Much has been made of Apple TV+ undercutting competitors, but the price was set low to make up for the fact that, unlike rival services, it won’t contain a backlog of content out of the gate. (snip)

Apple’s lack of a library argues for the company to buy a production studio. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (which also owns the Starz premium channel), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (known as MGM), Sony Pictures and indie studio A24 are all prospects.

Yahoo Finance interviewed Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

“It’s a content arms race,” Ives told Yahoo. “Right now, Apple has built a house, they’ve priced it accordingly. They need to fill it with content and we think that’s going to be the next trick up the sleeve for (Apple CEO Tim) Cook in terms of bigger M&A.” That’s mergers and acquisitions for those who don’t converse in business talk.

Ives’s pecking order for potential purchases was as follows: A24 Studio, Lionsgate, Viacom/CBS, Sony Pictures, MGM Studios, Netflix “and then a potential gaming publisher (that could be incorporated into Apple’s streaming service or a separate gaming subscription service) as a wild card.”

Sony distributed the four most recent Bond films. It’s not involved with No Time to Die, which will be distributed by United Artists Releasing (joint venture between MGM and Annapurna) in the U.S. and Universal internationally.

MGM has long been one of the weakest studios, having survived various restructurings and a bankruptcy. MGM controls half of the Bond film franchise along with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions. MGM also owns a large film library, which includes the old United Artists library containing such titles (in addition to Bond films) as West Side Story, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, the Rocky series and the Pink Panther series.

Apple certainly has plenty of cash. Interesting times in show biz.

Pinewood Conducts Review; 007 film home may be sold

Pinewood Group PLC logo

Pinewood Group PLC logo

Pinewood Group PLC said Wednesday it’s conducting a “strategic review” that could lead to the company — the long-time studio home for the 007 films — to be sold.

Here’s an excerpt from the company’s press release:

The Board has now determined that it is appropriate to evaluate alternative opportunities to maximise value for the Company’s shareholders and to build on Pinewood’s successes to date. We believe there is a requirement for a funding strategy to be in place to fully realise the Company’s future potential…Accordingly, Rothschild has been appointed to assist with a strategic review of the overall capital base and structure, which could include a sale of the Company.

Pinewood has wanted to move to the main market of the London Stock Exchange from AIM, the market for smaller, growing companies. But, ACCORDING TO REUTERS, such a move is being hindered by the company’s tight ownership.

“As a result of a failed takeover attempt in 2011, Pinewood’s biggest shareholder Peel Group owns about 40 percent and Warren James Holdings has a 26 percent stake, Reuters data showed,” the news service reported. Bloomberg News said IN A SEPARATE STORY that Aviva PLC owns another 13 percent. All told, that means the large holders control 79 percent of Pinewood Shares. To get on the main market, a company needs to have at least 25 percent of its shares trading publicly, Bloomberg said.

Besides the bulk of the Bond films (including last year’s SPECTRE), Star Wars movies, the 1989 Batman and 1978 Superman films have been made at Pinewood’s main U.K. studios. The company has expanded to other locations, including Atlanta and Toronto.

MGM watch: creditors may be asked to vote on debt restructuring, bankruptcy: Bloomberg

Creditors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., which controls half of the 007 franchise, are going to be asked to approve some major movies, according to a Sept. 10 Bloomberg.com story by Ronald Grover and Michael White. Highlights:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. creditors will be asked to approve a restructuring and pre-packaged bankruptcy plan for the studio within the next week or two, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Under the plan, MGM would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after obtaining creditor approval, with the goal of emerging from court protection by the end of the year, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the details aren’t public. Susie Arons, an MGM spokeswoman, declined to comment.

All of this is tied in with a plan where the top management of Spyglass Entertainment would take over control of MGM. If you want to read the entire Bloomberg story, here’s a SECOND LINK YOU CAN CLICK ON.

If the Bloomberg story is correct — and IF the plan actually gets executed as described — that suggests the *earliest* Bond 23 development can resume is sometime in early 2011. Presumably, the new MGM regime would want to get to know Eon Productions bosses Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Also, the new MGM leadership would have to establish which studio would actually release Bond 23 once its made. Finally, there’s also the work schedules of actor Daniel Craig and would-be Bond 23 director Sam Mendes to consider.

Again, that’s just our reading of the tea leaves. It’s our guess the earliest Bond 23 would be released is 2012, but we stress that’s only a guess.

Sir Roger Moore television interview

First Bloomberg Television’s Mike Schneider interviews Robert Vaughn about his autobiograhy. Now he’s gotten to interview Sir Roger Moore about his. Here’s the Night Talk interview: