Welcome to tech ‘disruption,’ 007 fans

Daniel Craig

Technology companies like to disrupt. Newspapers (Google and Facebook have sucked up advertising) and retail (Amazon.com) are among the sectors that have been disrupted.

The cinema world of James Bond may be next.

Apple Inc. and Amazon.com are pursuing James Bond film distribution rights, The Hollywood Reporter said. And, the entertainment news website reported, it’s possible they could go beyond that to possible control of the 007 franchise.

What has gone from a relatively simple question (who will distribute Bond 25?) may instead transform 007 from a movie series into a multi-media endeavor.

The Reporter estimates the franchise is worth anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion. Apple may be looking to produce content while Amazon already does. Each can afford it.

If either took control, it’s certain that things wouldn’t remain the same. You don’t spend billions of dollars to keep things exactly the same.

Walt Disney Co. acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd., originators of Star Wars. Disney gives management at both a lot of leeway, but under Disney ownership both are ramping up film production. Marvel now is up to three films a year. Lucasfilm has resumed the regular Star Wars saga, with one-off films in between.

It remains to be seen how this turns out. It’s possible Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, cuts a distribution deal with a traditional studio such as Warner Bros.

Still, keep in mind that MGM mostly is owned by hedge funds. They’re looking to make a profit. Also, does the Broccoli-Wilson family, which controls Danjaq and Eon Productions, have its price? If offers priced in the billions get made, anything is possible.

That’s what they mean by disruption.

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Apple, Amazon seek 007 rights, THR Reports

Apple logo

Tech companies Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are seeking James Bond film rights, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER SAID.

They’ve joined traditional film studios, including Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures seeking a deal to distribute Bond 25, according to the entertainment news website. The Bond franchise is controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq, the parent organization for Eon Productions.

The THR story raises the possibility that Apple and Amazon could expand 007’s reach beyond theatrical films.

Here’s an excerpt:

But the emergence of Apple — which is considered such a viable competitor that Warners is now pressing MGM hard to close a deal — and Amazon shows that the digital giants consider Bond one of the last untapped brands (like a Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm) that could act as a game-changer in the content space. Apple’s and Amazon’s inclusion in the chase would indicate that more is on the table than film rights, including the future of the franchise if MGM will sell or license out for the right price.

 

Two former Sony Television executives, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, are leading Apple’s effort, the Reporter said. The move suggests “Apple is interested in cutting a larger rights deal or acquiring full ownership to exploit Bond’s largely unmined TV potential,” according to the story by Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit.

Studios have scrambled to acquire “intellectual property” that can be the basis of movies, television and other outlets as well creating merchandising opportunities. Walt Disney Co. spent billions to buy Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd., which originated Star Wars. Disney’s Marvel and Lucasfilm operations now account for much of Disney’s film output.

The Reporter says the Bond franchise could be worth anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion. Apple and Amazon both have the resources to make that kind of deal.  Each is among the largest companies in the world. Amazon recently spent more than $13 billion to acquire Whole Foods.

In July, Eon announced a U.S. release date of November 2019 for Bond 25. But no distributor has been announced. Sony has released the last four James Bond films. MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation.

1 million page views later

Today, Aug. 1, The Spy Command reached 1 million page views. Sounds like a big number but it’s actually pretty modest for the internet. But it’s not bad for a blog with a niche audience.

The blog’s best day for views was Nov. 15, 2013. That’s when it published a post with the press release that Danjaq LLC (parent of Eon Productions) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had reached an agreement with the Kevin McClory estate.

The deal brought all rights that had been held by McClory into the Danjaq-MGM fold “thus bringing to an amicable conclusion the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50 years,” according to the statement. Thus, the Eon 007 series could again use Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE without fear of legal action.

That, however, was not the most viewed post in the history of blog. That honor goes to a post quoting Guy Ritchie that his first choice for Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was Brad Pitt.

Who’d have thought? Perhaps more surprises lay ahead.

Sony passed on chance to buy MGM, WSJ says

Sony Pictures at one time passed on a chance to outright buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of James Bond, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal doesn’t specify exactly when this occurred. But, based on the story by Ben Fritz, it was before MGM reorganized during a 2010 bankruptcy. Here’s the key excerpt:

Sony Pictures executives discussed buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose James Bond movies Sony had distributed for years. Instead MGM reorganized itself into an independent venture. Other potential acquisitions targets for Sony included DreamWorks Animation and pay-cable network Starz, according to employees. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ended up buying the network.

“There was a cautious business philosophy where we did not want to take big swings,” said a former Sony Pictures executive.

The story concerns both Sony Pictures and Paramount described as “Hollywood’s two worst-performing movie studios” by the Journal.

Paramount missed its own opportunity. It initially released movies produced by Marvel Studios. But Walt Disney Co. moved in and bought Marvel.

Sony has released the past four James Bond films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 distribution deal expired with SPECTRE. Under that contract, Sony co-financed the films but only got 25 percent of the profits.

The Journal recently reported that MGM’s attempts to sell itself to a Chinese buyer fell apart last year.

Regardless, MGM has no distribution agreement for Bond 25. The studio and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) control the Bond franchise.

Happy 75th birthday, Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Today, Jan. 21, is the 75th birthday of Michael G. Wilson, stepson of Albert R. Broccoli.

He has been involved with the James Bond film franchise full-time since the early-1970s, excluding a brief appearance as an extra in 1964’s Goldfinger.

As a result, Wilson has been involved with the franchise longer than anyone, including his step-father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions and its parent company, Danjaq LLC.

Cubby Broccoli invested the last 35 years (1961-1996) of his life in Bondage. Wilson’s tenure is longer.

This blog has published critical posts about Wilson over time. But we always give Wilson his due. Spending more than four decades on a full-time basis on a single movie franchise should be noted.

Happy birthday, Mr. Wilson.

 

MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25 Part III

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a new year but there some leftover business from the old: What studio will end up releasing Bond 25?

The blog has twice (once in April and again in September) analyzed the possibilities. So here’s an updated look.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films but as of now has no new contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for future Bond movies.

Not a lot new since September. Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a success for Sony and isn’t likely to become a franchise. Sony is teaming up with Marvel Studios to get new Spider-Man movies going.

Sony may be sufficiently desperate to again accept a low-profit distribution deal for Bond 25. Most recently, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. It received less money than MGM and Danjaq, the parent group for Eon Productions.

However, there’s the possibility of a wild card.

The New York Post last month reported that its “Tokyo tipsters claim” that CBS chief Les Moonves was looking to acquire Sony Pictures from its parent company, Sony Corp. The story didn’t offer much in the way of details. Certainly, no actual deal materialized.

Paramount: CBS had been looking to merge with Viacom, parent company of ParamountBut that deal unraveled in December.

CBS and Viacom had once been together but then were split apart. The companies are controlled by the Redstone family. There had been a family soap opera in 2015 and 2016 which led to, among other things, a new leadership team at Paramount.

It remains to be seen how quickly Paramount recovers from all this and whether it’s in the position to make a Bond deal with MGM.

Warner Bros.: AT&T announced in October it agreed to acquire Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. The $85 billion deal isn’t forecast to be complete until the second half of this year.

That raises the question whether Warners can do a Bond 25 deal. The studio already is busy trying to establish its “shared universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Two big ones, Wonder Woman and Justice League, are coming out this year.

20th Century Fox and Universal: Neither studio has the issues confronting Sony, Paramount or Warner Bros. Either or both could make a play. But the question is whether either would be willing to take the kind of low profits Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Walt Disney Co.: This is strictly a guess but Disney doesn’t act like a company interested in doing a limited distribution deal for Bond. Disney likes to get out its checkbook and buy properties whole, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. If Disney were interested in 007, it’d be more likely to buy everybody else out.

MGM (?): Sony emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a much smaller company without its own movie distribution operation.

MGM has been working toward an initial public offering of stock in a few years. However, if the pending AT&T acquisition causes a new round of media deals, MGM will face a decision.

Is the current strategy adequate? If not, does it get bigger (and re-establish distribution)? Or does it sell out and get acquired by someone else?

MGM watch: Ben-Hur remake flops in setback for 007 studio

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s remake of Ben-Hur flopped at the U.S.-Canada box office with a paltry estimated $11.4 million for the Aug. 19-21 weekend, according to Variety.

The movie finished No. 5 this weekend, according to a tweet by Exhibitors Relations, which tracks box office results. The flop occurred in a weekend that wasn’t robust for theaters. Suicide Squad, in its third weekend, was No. 1 at $20.7 million.

Ben-Hur was actually released by Paramount. After exiting bankruptcy in 2010, MGM isn’t big enough to distribute its own films. So MGM cuts deals with other studios to share production costs, with the partner studio getting movies to theaters.

Ben-Hur, based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, has been made as a film three times previously. The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, won 11 Academy Awards.

Here’s why this blog noting all this: MGM is the home studio for the James Bond film series, with MGM and Danjaq LLC (the parent company of Eon Productions) controlling the franchise.

In March, MGM chief Gary Barber said 007 films will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle. MGM doesn’t yet have a partner studio for Bond 25 after Sony Pictures’ most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. The next Bond film also doesn’t have a confirmed leading actor or, as far as anyone knows, a script.

When MGM was in bankruptcy, it produced a business plan saying it would get 007 films out on an every-other-year schedule. However, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, has made clear she’s not interested in making Bond films that often.

MGM in recent months has emphasized its slate of non-Bond projects, mostly in television. The studio only releases a handful of movies each year, so any flop hurts MGM more than competitors with larger film slates.

Ben-Hur’s flop also demonstrates that MGM’s supply of bankable movie projects outside of 007 remains limited. Since 2010, MGM’s other main movie property was the now-concluded Hobbit series.

MGM’s next film is a fall release of another remake, The Magnificent Seven.