Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Big Partner, Big Dreams: Comcast To Buy DreamWorks Animation? [UPDATE]
As DreamWorks' distribution deal with Fox draws to a close in two years, it looks like the studio is already looking for the next partner... The one that may pick them up? It's a big one...
Certainly a shocking and unexpected development, Wall Street Journal is reporting that Comcast is in talks to buy DreamWorks Animation!
This comes after a few years of box office losses and companies (i.e. SoftBank, Hasbro) backing out of acquiring the two-decades old studio, though they are now regaining traction thanks to the TV hits and Netflix, alongside the box office successes of Home and Kung Fu Panda 3.
Comcast also happens to own... NBC Universal. If you remember, 12 years ago, Comcast attempted to buy The Walt Disney Company!
Universal and DreamWorks teaming up...
I sincerely hope this happens. Not to mention, Mr. Spielberg is back at Universal with his separate, live-action DreamWorks SKG studio.
A little while back I put up a poll, asking what distributor should join forces with DreamWorks after their deal with Fox ends with the summer 2018 release of How To Train Your Dragon 3. I felt that Universal was the best candidate, because out of all the non-Disney distributors, look at the scores they're getting with animated films! They've got one heck of a marketing department, as only one Illumination film made a rather small amount... and I feel that Fox has done DreamWorks very little favors in that field.
All the recent flops (sans Rise of the Guardians) happened under their watch, and I've heard stories. Animators openly blasted the marketing people's efforts before, a recent example being the day story artist Clio Chiang took to Twitter to tell people that the teaser for Trolls is no indicator of what the movie will be like. There was also an animator who said that the filmmakers behind How To Train Your Dragon 2 urged the marketing people not to reveal Valka in the trailers.
Miraculously, Home opened very well though its legs weren't all that special. Kung Fu Panda 3 did fine enough, as it had the franchise power behind it along with little-to-no competition for a little while, but who knows how the likes of Trolls, Boss Baby, et al. will do. Regardless of quality, you got to get the audiences interested in seeing your movie first. The marketing folk failed to do just that with mega-budgeted films like Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Penguins of Madagascar.
Early 2015 brought a massive restructuring, which lead to over 500 animators being laid off and a 35-year-old studio (partner studio Pacific Data Images) being shut down... Gotta love how the animators are the ones who suffer. Heck, Fox even kind of botched Kung Fu Panda 3's marketing. That should've opened higher than a fair $41 million, but it still did well so no use complaining.
If all goes through, they will acquire the studio for a whopping $3 billion. WSJ warns that it may not happen, but who knows!
I think it would be a perfect match, because DreamWorks deserves success and hopefully that success will lead to significantly better pictures than the current crop we've gotten.
What say you?
The Wall Street Journal says that Comcast is interested in DreamWorks Animation more for their TV and consumer products end than the feature film production end. They intend to mesh those with NBCUniversal properties, and franchise the heck out of them so more. Plus, the theme parks!
Also, if the acquisition will happen... Jeffrey Katzenberg leave the company.
Katzenberg. Will leave DreamWorks. If this happens.
That is big in so many ways.
Katzenberg has been part of the animation industry since the mid-1980s, starting at Disney as we all know and "helping" foster their Renaissance of the late 80s/early 90s. (How much of the Renaissance was his doing, that's up to you. I think he merely just gave a ton of talented people keys to a car that they hadn't been allowed to drive.) After his relationship with CEO Michael Eisner soured, he left in fall 1994 to start DreamWorks SKG with Spielberg and David Geffen. Of course, they fired up an animation studio to compete with Disney, right off the bat. Years later, DreamWorks Animation became its own unique, independent entity - but shared the name with the live-action end. He remained CEO of that company, while DreamWorks SKG went around, notably entering a 30-picture deal with Disney that fell apart last year due to Disney's shift to specializing only in big tentpole movies. No more room for a small-scale movie or two, the fall release The Light Between Oceans being the last picture in the deal.
How do I feel about him leaving? Honestly, I kind of want that to happen... I'm not really a fan of Katzenberg, though I can acknowledge the good things he has done. That's an opinion for another piece.
DreamWorks has been through many ups and downs following their mostly-unscathed hit streak that ran from the release of Shrek 2 in 2004 to the 2012 release of Madagascar 3. During that time, DreamWorks happened to make quite a few big acquisitions. Classic Media was one of them, now they have a whole library of properties that they are little by little exploiting. (i.e. the new Voltron animated series is on the way.) I'm sure that plays a massive part in the deal.
So what's to become of DreamWorks Animation then?
WSJ says that Chris Meledandri, head of Illumination Entertainment - the studio that Universal makes a killing off of - will figure out what to do with the studio. Illumination, if you remember, is very smart with budgets on their animated features... Something DreamWorks, well, wasn't... In the recent years. Blowing $135-145 million on projects like Turbo, Mr. Peabody & Sherman and others? Really? Especially in a time where not every CG movie is meant to pull $400-500 million worldwide out of a hat just like that? It isn't 2003 anymore.
DreamWorks' overspending in the past few years has always been an issue for me, because so much was expected of their films as a result. Add in wishy-washy marketing (Fox, I'm looking at you) and you have an even bigger problem. Pixar can shrug off the big box office loss they suffered with The Good Dinosaur this past autumn, because they have a huge safety net - Disney. Plus a plethora of smash hits. DreamWorks doesn't have that, despite some popular franchises. Katzenberg did like Walt and built the company, expanding to TV, theme parks, and other areas. It looks like the moves might be a saving grace, because the movie pipeline is not foolproof.
Anyways, I hope Meledandri - if DreamWorks is to become part of the Comcast/NBCUniversal family - keeps the budgets under control. Illumination's films look fine for films made for less than $80 million, the MacGuff house impresses with each film. DreamWorks' heads said they'd lower the costs of their films following the 2013-2014 losses, but really... Is $120 million that much less than what they were spending? Hopefully Trolls, the first of these "lower budget" films, does well. Same with Boss Baby and the other slated productions. It was also mentioned that Meledandri would be the one to determine what projects move ahead... I guess DWA Presidents Mireille Sora and Bonnie Arnold won't have a say in that process anymore?
On a less positive note... Studio layoffs and cutbacks will likely happen if the merger occurs.
What say you? Should Comcast buy DreamWorks Animation? Or do you think there's a better place for DreamWorks Animation? What do you think of Jeffrey Katzenberg potentially leaving the company?
And it happened...
The plot thickens...