THR describes challenges at MGM, Bond’s home studio

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer faces various challenges that may lead to James Bond’s home studio being sold, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The entertainment news outlet paints a picture of a studio in flux, including possible suitors and executive changes. Among the highlights:

–MGM needs No Time to Die, the upcoming James Bond film to generate $1 billion in global box office. Only 2012’s Skyfall has reached that mark among Bond films.

–Various companies might be interested in acquiring MGM, including Comcast (parent company of Universal, which is handling international distribution for No Time to Die), Viacom (parent company of Paramount) and tech company Apple Inc, which has expanded into streaming television.

“Apple’s fledgling streaming service is far behind Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the coming-soon HBO Max and Peacock,” THR said. Apple is sitting on $250 billion in cash and could easily afford an acquisition.

–MGM management is shifting. It was previously known that Jonathan Glickman was departing as head of MGM’s film division. THR reported that former Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal has joined MGM’s board of directors. Pascal had a close relationship with Barbara Broccoli of Eon Productions when Sony distributed four Bond films from 2006-2015.

–MGM wrote down the value of its Epix premium TV channel by $480 million. MGM bought out its partners for about $1 billion. Translation: MGM paid a lot more for Epix than it was worth. Epix is supposed to be a way for MGM to be consistently profitable.

–MGM is “highly leveraged” (i.e. it has a lot of debt).

MGM became the home studio of Bond when it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA had owned half of the franchise since it bought out Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman in 1975.

Ever since, the MGM-Bond relationship has been a soap opera. Danjaq, Eon’s parent company, filed a lawsuit against MGM, which contributed to the 1989-1995 hiatus. MGM underwent a 2010 bankruptcy, which caused Bond production to grind to a halt for a time.

MGM never replaced CEO Gary Barber after the studio’s board forced out the executive in 2018 MGM currently is managed by an “office of the CEO.”

Pluto TV: Bond fans hardly knew ye

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Easy come, easy go.

Viacom’s Pluto TV streaming service is ending its free James Bond channel, Pluto said in a Dec. 29 tweet.

Before we say goodbye to our #007 channel, we’re spending the next 2 days counting down fan-favorite James Bond movies!” according to the post on Twitter.

“Soak up the best of Bond on our #PlutoTV 007 channel (CH 7)! pluto.tv/live-tv/pluto- #JamesBond”

Pluto TV was founded in 2013 and purchased by Viacom earlier this year. Its James Bond channel debuted in September. It provided Bond films with commercials thanks to a licensing deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions.

You can view Pluto’s tweet below. h/t James Bond Television

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Pluto TV to have Bond streaming channel

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Viacom’s Pluto TV advertising-supported live streaming service will offer a James Bond channel, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Pluto TV 007 is scheduled to go live on Sunday and will offer 18 Bond films, Deadline said. The channel was made possible through a licensing agreement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions, according to the entertainment news outlet.

Pluto TV was founded in 2013 and purchased by Viacom earlier this year. It offers more than 160 networks across different genres, Deadline said.

More turmoil at would-be Bond 25 studio partner Paramount

Paramount logo

Paramount logo

Paramount Pictures, one of the would-be studio partners for Bond 25, may be experiencing some more turmoil.

Bray Grey, the studio chief, is in talks with parent company Viacom about taking a different post at Viacom, the entertainment news website The Wrap reported, citing two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. Paramount and Viacom did not comment, The Wrap said.

The Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the talks, said Paramount could announce Grey’s exit as early as next week.

Paramount is among the studios that is supposed to be interested in striking a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25. MGM isn’t big enough to release its own films.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture 007 film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Paramount has done business with MGM, releasing MGM’s 2016 Ben Hur flop.

Paramount has struggled and Viacom was hobbled by a fight where the controlling Redstone family ousted CEO Philippe Dauman last year. The Redstones also control CBS and for a time wanted the companies to consider a merger. Those talks ended in December.

The talks with Grey “come nearly two weeks after” Viacom’s current CEO, Bob Bakish, “made a public mandate for improved financial performance at the studio,” The Wrap said.

Other would-be Bond 25 studio partners also have issues.

Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, last month wrote down the value of that studio by almost $1 billion. Sony Corp. has said it’s not planning to sell the movie business. Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, is being acquired by AT&T, but that $85 billion deal is pending regulatory review.

UPDATE: 3 would-be Bond 25 distributors struggle

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last month, the blog examined how real-life developments could inhibit two studios from seeking a deal to distribute Bond 25 and future 007 films.

At least one other studio may also encounter problems. So this post is part new and part recap.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has distributed the last four Bond movies. But there was a management change last year, with Amy Pascal (an ally of Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions) departing.

Well, according to Variety’s James Rainey, things haven’t gone well with the new regime. An excerpt:

A series of personnel complaints and threatened defections by senior executives have raised questions about the leadership of Sony Pictures Entertainment movie boss Tom Rothman, several sources said — a difficult challenge for a studio already fighting to gain traction during a rough year at the box office.

(snip)
The unhappy Sony executives report that Rothman has made their lives untenable with his micro-management and obstreperous manner, which they say has also alienated talent agents, producers, directors and actors, many of whom are now loathe to bring their projects to Sony, the sources said.

Sony didn’t make that much money from Skyfall and SPECTRE because it only got a 25 percent split of the profits, earning far less than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon.

Presumably, Sony would want a better deal from MGM if one could be secured. The Variety report suggests things remain unstable at Sony, which suffered computer hacks in 2014 that damaged its reputation.

Warner Bros.: The studio’s parent company, Time Warner, agreed last month to be acquired by AT&T Inc. in an $84.5 billion deal.

That transaction likely won’t be final until late 2017. The question becomes whether Warners is in a position to make a Bond 25 deal until the AT&T acquisition becomes final.

Paramount: The studio’s parent company, Viacom, may end up merging with CBS. Both companies were once joined and then split. Now, it’s looking like they could join up again.

All that figurative paper pushing isn’t conducive to getting things done. Even if the Viacom-CBS re-merger happens quickly, there’s bound to be a period of adjustment.

‘Playing Monopoly with real buildings’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For almost a year, there was supposed to be bidding by studios to be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s partner in distributing Bond 25 and other future 007 movies. But real life has a way of intruding.

Two of the expected suitors, Paramount and Warner Bros., have seen their respective parent companies involved with real-life dramas.

Throughout much of this year, there was a fight for control at Viacom, which owns Paramount. Viacom’s CEO, Philippe Dauman, who had wanted to sell a big chunk of Paramount to outside investors, got his walking papers. Now, billionaire Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. wants to merge Viacom with CBS.

National Amusements controls both. At one time, CBS was part of Viacom. Then, they were split into separate companies. Now, they may be one again. (This FORTUNE.COM STORY has a summary of all this.)

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., has had talks with AT&T Inc. concerning “various business strategies including a possible merger.” According to the Bloomberg story, citing “people familiar with the matter,” Time Warner would be willing to sell for the right offer. The company rejected an offer from 21st Century Fox, parent company of 20th Century Fox, in 2014 for $75 billion.

Why should 007 fans care? Change of ownership or major structural change tends to be unsettling. It’s harder to make long-term moves if your company’s ownership may change. The separate intrigue at Viacom and Time Warner, may affect the ability of Paramount and Warner Bros. to do a Bond deal with MGM.

For now, there is nobody to release Bond 25. Sony Pictures, through its Columbia brand, has released the last four 007 films. But its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

At this point, neither the Viacom-CBS merger nor an AT&T-Time Warner deal have occurred (AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment on the Bloomberg story).

Still, all this wheeling and dealing recalls a line from Diamonds Are Forever about how reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte was said to be “playing Monopoly with real buildings.”

UPDATE (Oct. 21): The Wall Street Journal reported today that AT&T is in “advanced talks” to acquire Time Warner and that a deal could be reached as early as this weekend.

UPDATE II (Oct. 21, 10:20 p.m. ET): Reuters reported Friday night, citing people it didn’t identify, that AT&T has reached “an agreement in principal” to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion.

UPDATE III (Oct. 22, 7:40 p.m.ET): AT&T announces it has agreed to acquire Time Warner for $107.50 per share for a total of $85.4 billion. Time Warner shareholders will receive half in cash and half in AT&T stock, according to the statement disclosing the sales accord. AT&T said it expects the deal to close before the end of 2017.

UPDATED: MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Back in April, the blog took a look at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s potential studio partners for Bond 25.

Well, no decision has been reached (or at least announced) since then, but there have been developments among the studios. So here’s an updated look at the studios that may co-finance and distribute the next James Bond film.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films but its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

Sony’s share of the Bond profits were paltry the past two films. New leadership took over the studio and Amy Pascal, the executive who negotiated that deal, is gone.

Still, it may be the case that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sony this summer tried to revive Ghostbusters, this time featuring four women ghostbusters. (Pascal was one of the producers.) The Hollywood Reporter said in an August story that the new film is on track to lose $70 million and that a sequel is unlikely.

Sony and Marvel Studios are working together on a new Spider-Man movie (with Marvel in creative control). But Sony remains in need of a movie “franchise.”

Radar Online, an entertainment and gossip website, this weekend RAN A POST saying that Sony “should be announcing any day that the studio is re-upping the distribution rights for the Bond series.” Further, it says Sony (it doesn’t mention MGM) is offering Daniel Craig, 48, $150 million to do two more Bond movies.

We’ll slap the Caveat Emptor label on that. One of Sony’s problems with the last two 007 movies is, while they generated $2 billion in worldwide box office, the studio was third in line (behind MGM and Eon Productions) in getting money despite putting up half of the large production budgets.

Paying your leading man $75 million per movie isn’t going to help studio profitability. But we’ll see what happens. Regardless, Sony’s interest in Bond likely remains high, especially after this summer’s Ghostbusters movie.

Warner Bros.: The studio has its hands full with its slate of movies featuring DC Comics characters.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the No. 5 movie worldwide so far this year at $872.7 million. Another DC-based movie, Suicide Squad, featuring villains forced to work for the government, is No. 8 worldwide at $643.4 million.

Most studios would love such a result, but “Mr. Warner” was hoping for more than $1 billion for Batman v Superman. Rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co., is No. 1 for 2016 at $1.15 billion for Captain America: Civil War.

Still, the studio isn’t backing down, with a movie version of the Justice League in the works for 2017, picking up where Batman v Superman left off. Does the studio have the bandwidth to also co-finance Bond films?

Paramount: When last we looked in on Paramount, there was a lot of turmoil at its parent company, Viacom.

Well, that soap opera reached a resolution last month, including the forced departure of Paramount chief Philippe Dauman. That raises the question whether new leadership at the studio can mount an effort to strike a deal with MGM.

Paramount co-financed and released MGM’s Ben-Hur remake, which reached theaters last month. The movie bombed, apparently the answer to a question audiences weren’t asking.

20th Century Fox: Not much has changed here. Fox has a deal with MGM to handle home video distribution of Bond movies.