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.

007 in New York exhibition opens

Ken Adam sketches shown at Spyscape in New York (Photo courtesy of Gary J. Firuta)

This weekend, the Driven: 007 x Spyscape, a James Bond exhibition opened up in New York.

The blog couldn’t make it for real-life reasons. However Gary J. Firuta, a friend of the blog, was present and sent some photographs.

Spyscape is a New York City spy museum. The Driven: 007 x  Spyscape exhibit was intended to provide “a different perspective in this brand new exhibition.”

“The multi-sensory experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5.”

The exhibit takes up five rooms at Spyscape. Over the past two weeks, a number of 007 fan sites indicated they’d be present for this weekend.

The exhibit’s debut came a little more than a month before the beginning of principal photography of Bond 25.

Robert Sellers coming out with a Broccoli-Saltzman book

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Robert Sellers, the author of The Battle for Bond, a book about the behind-the-scenes conflict concerning Thunderball, is coming out with a new book about Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the co-founders of Eon Productions.

There is a listing on the U.K. site of Amazon for When Harry Met Cubby: The Story of the James Bond Producers.

According to the listing, the book will be out in September. Here’s part of the description:

Both men were of such contrasting personalities that relations between them often span out of control, to such an extent that they not only fell out with their star, Sean Connery, but ultimately with each other. Loved and hated in equal measure, respected and feared by their contemporaries, few movie people have loomed as large over the industry as Broccoli and Saltzman, yet tragically they would meet very different ends.

During the 1960s heydey of the Bond film series, Broccoli and Saltzman took the industry by storm as 007 became a phenomenon.

In the ensuing decades, a narrative took hold of Saltzman being the more volatile of the two. Some fans (via social media) claim that Saltzman wasn’t really a producer.

On the other hand, other accounts indicate that Saltzman had a major impact on Bond film stories. Richard Maibaum had been a Broccoli man (going back to the producer’s partnership with Irving Allen). Saltzman brought in others (such as Len Deighton, Paul Dehn and John Hopkins) to revise Maibaum’s work.

Regardless, the blog’s guess is the new Sellers book will bring new insights to an old partnership that finally ruptured in the mid-1970s.

About those Bond 25 delays

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the most recent six-week delay for Bond 25 was announced on Friday, there has been a lot of reaction. One recurring theme has been in tweets and elsewhere in social media saying to get over it, you’re being childish by being upset, etc..

For a recap, here’s a look at some previous gaps in 007 films:

1989-1995: A legal fight between Danjaq/Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; major disruptions at MGM (eventually it got taken over by a French bank); Danjaq/Eon considered a sale but didn’t follow through. Pretty major stuff.

2002-2006: Dana Broccoli, matriarch of the Broccoli-Wilson clan died in 2004. Eon did soul searching, decided to reboot with Casino Royale. Change in leading man. Pretty major stuff.

2008-2012: MGM (Bond’s home studio) goes bankrupt and reorganizes. Pretty major stuff.

2015-present: Well, there was…no calamity remotely as severe as the aforementioned gaps. No MGM bankruptcy. No reboot. No recasting of leading man.

Regardless, the current gap already is on pace to be the second-longest gap, with the latest release date of April 8, 2020.

You could argue it’s good that Eon is taking time with Bond 25’s story, reportedly hiring Scott Z. Burns to rewrite the script. Better to nail down the script before production.

Sure. That’s a glass half-full outlook and perfectly understandable. See THIS VIDEO and THIS VIDEO for examples.

On the other hand, condescending, pats on the head aren’t a good look. If you want people to take a more positive outlook, lecturing isn’t the way to achieve your goal.

Bond 25: What’s up with MGM?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

With all the fuss about Bond 25 since Danny Boyle departed as director, one aspect hasn’t gotten much attention.

What’s up with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of the 007 film franchise?

It was Eon Productions’ 007 social media outlets that announced Boyle’s departure. Nothing new on that front since Eon’s Aug. 21 announcement.

MGM controls half of the Bond franchise along with Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

MGM reported second-quarter financial results back on Aug. 7, back when Boyle still was slated to direct Bond 25.

The studio had a conference call with investors on Aug. 7. At that point, Christopher Brearton, who has the title chief operating officer, said everything was great 007-wise.

“The big film news of the quarter was our announcement that we were partnering with Universal Pictures for the international distribution of Bond 25. We are very excited about this deal. Universal’s exceptional international distribution and marketing organization make this an important new partnership for MGM.”

MGM, through a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures, is slated to handled U.S. distribution of Bond 25. Brearton said MGM is positioned to retain more value from Bond film box office.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the film,” Brearton said of Bond 25.

That was then. This is….well, we don’t know. MGM has said nothing about Bond 25 since Boyle’s departure. Eon? It has said nothing other than Boyle is out because of “creative differences.”

MGM, it should be remembered, still hasn’t named a new CEO since Gary Barber departed in March.

The studio has a successful TV operation. Its movie operation? Well, it’s latest film, Operation Finale (released by the MGM-Annapurna joint venture) came in at No. 4 for the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 weekend with an estimated $6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. No. 1 was Crazy Rich Asians, with an estimated $22.2 million in its third weekend of release. (MGM rolled out Operation Finale on Aug. 29.)

You’ve got to wonder what the MGM brain trust thinks about the uncertainty surrounding Bond 25, especially because it (and presumably Universal) are paying the bills.

Is the studio pressing for a quick Boyle replacement to ensure Bond 25 meets its previously announced fall 2019 release date? Is there really anything it can do about it? Or can it only sit by and watch to see how Eon resolves the situation?

On the other hand, there are a few known aspects. MGM remains one of the weakest Hollywood studios in an era where a 20th Century Fox, a much healthier operation, can get swallowed up (by Walt Disney Co. in Fox’s case).

British tabloids have ignored the MGM angle of the Bond 25 saga. It may still be one worth watching.

So who is going to buy 007’s home studio?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

It seems as if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s days are numbered as an independent studio. So who ends up with 007’s home studio?

A new era of media consolidation is underway. And MGM is a small fry.

AT&T Inc. has completed its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., CNN, TBS and other media properties. The move comes after a U.S. court approved the deal earlier this week.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, is trying to buy most of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Comcast is offering $65 billion in cash after 21st Century Fox agreed in December to accept $52.4 billion in stock from Walt Disney Co. An all-out bidding war is expected from the two media giants.

MGM supposedly is trying to go it alone. But, in this new media reality, that seems a long shot at best.

MGM is mostly owned by hedge funds following the company’s 2010 bankruptcy. Hedge funds rarely invest for the long run. They mostly look for a quick turnaround. The fact that the hedge fund owners have held on to their ownership for eight years is remarkable enough.

Given how volatile the situation is, making a prediction about who will buy MGM seems foolhardy. But it seems likely somebody will at some point.

Comcast’s Universal recently won the rights to distribute Bond 25 outside the U.S. So Universal may have a foot in the door. Maybe.

Here’s another question worth asking.

Would a bidder for MGM get out its checkbook and buy out Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions?

After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying MGM, shouldn’t you buy all the James Bond film rights? Especially if media companies are throwing around tens of billions of dollars for acquisitions?

Some Bond fans feel the Broccoli-Wilson family would never sell out. Star Wars fans used to say to the same thing about George Lucas before he sold the franchise to Walt Disney Co.

Interesting days may lay ahead.

MGM’s credit rating downgraded by Moody’s

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s credit rating was downgraded, in part because of increased film and TV spending, including Bond 25.

“We believe that the front-end spending on the company’s film (including the next Bond film) and television slate are strategically beneficial,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement. At the same time, the New York-based ratings company said “financing the build up with all debt adds financial risk to business risks that are higher than average.”

MGM debt already was below investment grade, known popularly as “junk bonds.” Moody’s lowered its rating on MGM to Ba3 from Ba2. The minimum investment rating at Moody’s is Baa3. MGM, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, now is three levels into junk at Moody’s. The company said it doesn’t expect MGM’s rating to improve through 2019.

Essentially, Moody’s is saying MGM’s increased debt has increased the company’s risk.

MGM has been increasing its debt as it seeks to upgrade its Epix cable channel. Moody’s said the studio’s increased debt ” is a departure from the company’s very conservative financial policies espoused by its departing CEO Gary Barber.”

Barber led MGM out of bankruptcy in 2010. He was ousted earlier this year. A successor has yet to be named.

MGM is home studio to the 007 film franchise, which it controls with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions.