MGM watch: Will studio be affected by media consolidation?

MGM logo

AT&T Inc.’s pending $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner may kick off a new wave of media consolidations, analysts told Reuters.

So where does that leave Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a small fry on the media landscape?

MGM, the home studio of the 007 film series, emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a small company. It’s unable to release its own movies and has to cut deals with other studios. It’s also more of a television production company, making shows for cable networks.

Many bigger studios are already parts of conglomerates, including Warner Bros. (Time Warner), Columbia (Sony Corp.), Paramount (Viacom), Universal (Comcast), etc., etc., etc.

With AT&T’s announced purchase of Time Warner, still subject to regulatory review, even more consolidation is expected. Here’s an excerpt of the Reuters story by David Shepardson and Jessica Toonkel:

Media content companies are having an increasingly difficult time as standalone entities, creating an opportunity for telecom, satellite and cable providers to make acquisitions, analysts say.

Media firms face pressure to access distribution as more younger viewers cut their cable cords and watch their favorite shows on mobile devices. Distribution companies, meanwhile, see acquiring content as a way to diversify revenue.

“The industry needs to consolidate,” said Salvatore Muoio, whose firm invests in a number of media companies, including Time Warner. “You have a lot more competition from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.”

“Media content companies” include movie and TV studios.

There’s no telling how this will turn out. AT&T doesn’t expect the Time Warner acquisition to be completed until the end of 2017. Also, the purchase is going to be carefully examined by U.S. regulators.

It’s just worth noting the media business is going through new uncertainty. The Bond film series is tied to a small player in MGM. It may be worth watching how the consolidation unfolds.

‘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.

Happy (belated) 99th birthday, June Foray

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that Sept. 18 was the 99th birthday of June Foray, the greatest living cartoon voice.

Her many credits include voicing Rocky, the Flying Squirrel, as well as Natasha Fatale. Natasha was half of the villainous pair of Boris and Natasha, who kept trying to do in Rocky and Bullwinkle the Moose in 1960s cartoons produced by Jay Ward. (Ward’s producing partner, Bill Scott (1920-85), was the voice of Bullwinkle.)

She was a voice on many Warner Bros. cartoons (Granny, Witch Hazel). It took a while but she eventually got an on-screen credit on the cartoons.

Of course, Foray also got voice over jobs on live-action programs. She did the “bumpers” on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. informing viewers the show would resume “after station identification.” She was the voice of Talking Tina, a creepy doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Writer Mark Evanier of The News From ME blog has a tribute you can read by CLICKING HERE.

How Warner Bros. plans to lighten up its superhero films

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Could Supeman (at present deceased) lighten up in future movie appearances?

Studios and production companies rarely admit to misfires (see the James Bond film series for examples). But Warner Bros. and its DC Entertainment unit appear to be doing just that.

The Wall Street Journal, in a STORY POSTED THURSDAY, quoted Jeff Johns, a comic book writer who will have a lot of say over future DC Comics-based superhero movies.

“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong,” said Mr. Johns, who has written comic books featuring most of the company’s top superheroes. “It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”

All of this is happening after a very mixed year for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.

The good news: Two of the studios movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, had big box office in 2016. Bad news: Both movies fell off quickly after their opening weekends.

What’s more, Warner Bros. still trails rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War generated worldwide box office of $1.15 billion, better than either Warner Bros./DC Entertainment entry.

Other studios would kill for the box office of the two DC-based movies. But those movies were also very expensive. Batman v Superman, going into 2016, seemed a lock to be a billion-dollar movie but fell well short — despite featuring the two Big Dogs of the DC Comics universe.

According to The Journal, Warner Bros. is making some mid-course corrections. This except references the studio’s Wonder Woman solo movie and November 2017 release of Justice League:

“Justice League” will also directly address Batman’s extreme actions in the last movie (Batman v Superman), such as torturing criminals and nearly killing the man of steel, rather than accept them as par for the course. And it’s expected to have fewer of Mr. (director Zack) Snyder’s controversial flourishes, like the dream sequences in “Batman v Superman,” in favor of focusing more tightly on the plot, people close to the picture said.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen how this turns out. However, it’s clear that Marvel v DC: Battle for Supremacy, fought for decades in comic books, has moved to films.

Leslie H. Martinson, versatile director, dies at 101

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Leslie H. Martinson, a versatile director who mostly worked in television, has died at 101, according to an obituary published by The New York Times.

Martinson’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 108 directing credits, from 1953 through 1989. Besides TV, he also directed some movies, including the 1966 Batman feature based on the Adam West television show and 1963’s PT 109, with Cliff Robertson playing John F. Kennedy as a U.S. Naval officer in World War II.

Naturally, with a resume that long, Martinson dabbled in spy entertainment.

Another one of his movie credits was 1967’s Fathom, Raquel Welch’s entry into the 1960s spy craze. It also featured a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and main titles designed by Maurice Binder, and prominently feature the movie’s star.

What’s more, Martinson directed nine episodes of the original Mission: Impossible series. Those episodes ran during the show’s later seasons.

The director worked at various studios. He was in demand at Warner Bros. in the late 1950s and early ’60s, directing episodes of the studio’s detective (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6) and western (Maverick, Lawman, Cheyenne) series.

In the latter category, Martinson directed a particularly amusing Maverick installment, Gun-Shy,  which was a parody of the hugely popular CBS western Gunsmoke.

In Gun-Shy, Bret Maverick (James Garner) keeps running afoul of Marshal Mort Dooley. Maverick is repeatedly thrown out of town by Dooley. But Bret, trying to find buried riches, keeps coming back. Writer Marion Hargrove even threw in a joke referencing another CBS western, Have Gun-Will Travel.

Eventually, Bret has to face off against Dooley in a gunfight. But Maverick outsmarts the marshal by staying just outside the range of the lawman’s pistol. Martinson staged the sequence as a send-up of the opening of Gunsmoke where Marshal Matt Dillon faced off against a gunfighter.

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.


Suicide Squad is No. 1 again, albeit with a big falloff

The Joker after reading the Rotten Tomatoes website about Suicide Squad.

The Joker celebrates after Suicide Squad repeats as No. 1 movie in America.

“Mr. Warner” got good news and not-so-good news about Suicide Squad.

The Warner Bros./DC Entertainment movie about super villains forced to work for the government was again the No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada, with an estimated box office take of $43.8 million for the Aug. 12-14 weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

The not-so-good news was that represents a 67 percent falloff from its opening weekend. Still, the movie is estimated to generate U.S.-Canada box office of almost $223 million through today.

Suicide Squad isn’t nearly as well known as DC kingpins Batman and Superman. Three characters in the movie (Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Killer Croc) had their origins as Batman villains.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first film appearance together of the flagship DC characters, had U.S.-Canada box office of $330 million earlier this year. So, you can argue that Suicide Squad is punching above its weight.

Suicide Squad is arguably going to perform about as well as we could have hoped a Task Force X movie to play,”’s Scott Mendelson wrote. “Regarding actual grosses, it was indeed a live-action shot-in-the-arm to the summer box office that the theaters needed after a somewhat underwhelming mid-May to late-July period.”

Suicide Squad also includes cameo appearances by two DC heroes and has some scenes that set up bits for future movies based on DC characters.