UPDATED: Following CEO Bob Iger’s lead, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo won’t break out financial numbers for ESPN. But he strongly hints that its financial prospects are rosy by offering a few projections for Disney’s cable networks, which are dominated by …
UPDATED: Maker says Relativity is too late. The online studio’s deal with Disney “has been approved by Maker Studios’ Board of Directors and the majority of its shareholders and is expected to close in the next few weeks, subject to regulatory approval.” Oh, it also notes that the effort to block he deal in court “was denied today by The Superior Court of California; County of Los Angeles, Central District.” Relativity responds that it “made a compelling offer” and will “continue to aggressively explore future opportunities that align with our strategy to accelerate digital content creation and distribution.”
PREVIOUS, 8:58 AM: Is $1B in stock from Relativity worth more than $950M in cash from Disney? That’s the proposition Relativity is offering online multichannel company Maker Studios today. It sent a letter of intent last night that it says “is superior to the current offer from Walt Disney” that the Maker board accepted last month. The plan developed with help from Jefferies and Barclays includes $500M in Relativity shares, $400M in stock when Maker hits “certain financial milestones,” plus $100M in stock to go to “key talent and executives” who also “are not existing stockholders of the Company.” Relativity says that both it and Maker “are natural partners” because both “share a commitment to challenging the status quo, breaking down old models that don’t work and inventing new ones that do.” Disney believes that the deal it struck with Maker last month — $500M upfront and $450M with milestones — is binding, so we’ll see where this goes.
The proposal does not appear to be directly related to an effort by former Maker execs including co-founder Danny Zapplin to persuade the LA Superior Court to block the deal with Disney. The application for a temporary restraining order wants to put things on hold while the plaintiffs try to demonstrate that current Maker execs are “skimming tens of millions of dollars for themselves by kicking back to the other stock adverse to the common shareholder.” Disney isn’t named as a defendant in the matter.
With a submission deadline looming in a few days, more than 400 people filled the cavernous main room of a Santa Monica co-working space this week, eager to hear how their startup can create the future of entertainment, with help from a media giant and a hugely influential tech investor group.
The night’s main attraction was David Cohen of TechStars, which connects high-level tech investors with startups. TechStars has partnered with Disney to launch the Disney Accelerator, one of seven such sponsored accelerators it runs along with seven more stand-alone operations in as many cities on two continents. Soft-spoken and dressed Silicon Valley casual, Cohen told the CrossCampus gathering that the accelerator’s goal is simple: to find and fund “the next generation of entertainment.”
Disney’s proposed $500 million plus purchase of Maker Studios may have a problem from the past. The former CEO of the multichannel YouTube network wants a California judge to issue a temporary restring order against the planned vote next week on the big ticket merger. “Permitting the April 15, 2014 vote on the Merger to proceed without requiring additional disclosures would irreparably harm Plaintiffs, as well as Maker shareholders, because it would deprive them of the opportunity to make an informed vote in the Merger,” says the redacted and previously sealed application, filed yesterday in LA Superior Court by co-founder Danny Zapplin and three other former Maker execs. The TRO application alleges that something has to be done before it “will be too late” because current Maker execs are “skimming tens of millions of dollars for themselves by kicking back to the other stock adverse to the common shareholder.” The application to Judge Elihu Berle became public today. Disney is not named as a defendant in the matter.
Just days before Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens, the heirs of Captain America, The Avengers and X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby are asking the Supreme Court to hand them back the rights to the comic legends from Marvel and Disney. “The Court of Appeals unconstitutionally appropriated Kirby’s valuable copyrights and gave them outright to Marvel, effecting a transfer of wealth on a massive scale,” says the 39-page petition (read it here) filed with the high court on March 21. The petition is the latest legal attempt by Lisa Kirby, Neal Kirby, Susan Kirby and Barbara Kirby to assert that they had the right in 2009 to issue termination notices to Marvel and others on the artist’s characters under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. A response is due from Marvel and Disney on April 28.
As Frozen skated its way into Japan on March 14, the question began to loom larger and larger: Could the movie break Toy Story 3‘s $1,063,171,911 in worldwide box office to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time? When Bob Iger predicted it would happen, the reality of such a possibility crystalized further. And now, in its 19th international frame, the two-time Oscar winner has overtaken Disney’s TS3, earning $1,072,402,000 to win the crown of highest-grossing global animated release, ever. It’s also raced ahead of another Disney movie, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, to make it to No. 10 on the all-time worldwide box office chart. Ironically, the new notch comes one week after Frozen fell out of the domestic Top 10 for the first time during its long run.
Something didn’t smell right today at the happiest place on Earth. A strange odor at Disneyland saw four theme park cast members taken to local hospitals earlier Friday, according to the Anaheim Fire Department. The first responders arrived on the …
UPDATE, 2:35 PM: Nearly two weeks after the first report surfaced about an acquisition of the multichannel YouTube network, the studio made it official today. Disney said Maker Studios shareholders will be compensated to the tune of $550M plus a “performance-linked earn-out” of as much as $450M more. The full release is below the original story.
PREVIOUSLY, MARCH 11: The deal isn’t set, but if it makes, it would represent the biggest bet yet that a Hollywood studio has made in a company built on YouTube, the world’s largest video site. Disney reportedly is in talks to buy Maker Studios for at least $500 million, Re/Code reports, citing people familiar with the negotiations. According to Maker Studios, the multichannel network generates 5.5 billion video views a month, with almost all of its content on YouTube. This is the latest move by a traditional media company to expand its focus on digital content. Just yesterday we reported on Warner Bros leading an $18 million financing effort for Machinima. a YouTube network aimed at gamers and other young men. Online video company FullScreen also scored an investment led by Comcast and others, and in May DreamWorks Animation agreed to pay $33 million for YouTube destination AwesomenessTV. The reported talks also come after Disney’s announcement last week that it was laying off 26% of its interactive division.
Ben Sherwood To Succeed Anne Sweeney As Disney/ABC Television Group President, ABC’s Paul Lee Closing In On New Contract
ABC News president Ben Sherwood cemented his status as Disney’s golden TV boy as he has been appointed a successor to Anne Sweeney. Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group on February 1, 2015, a day after Sweeney ends her 10-year run in the same post. ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is expected to finalize a new multi-year contract, ensuring the network’s stability at the top heading into next month’s upfronts. Sherwood’s appointment comes after a short search, with the news wiz considered an early frontrunner as Disney again looked within ranks for the next top executive hire.
Sherwood will begin the transition as Co-President, Disney/ABC Television Group alongside Sweeney immediately, while also continuing to oversee ABC News until a successor is named. “Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
While Sherwood’s career trajectory resembles that of Jeff Zucker, who also transitioned from the No. 1 morning program, Today, to running NBC (they both also went to Harvard), observers point out that Sherwood also has entertainment experience. He took a break from the news business and became a best-selling author, with his novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud turned into a studio feature. Still, it was Sherwood’s accomplishments as head of the ABC News division that propelled him to the reins of Disney’s entire non-sports TV portfolio. Among them is leading Good Morning America to No. 1, brokering a successful online partnership with Yahoo to and launching Fusion, a joint venture news and lifestyle network with Univision. “Over the years, he has moved from success-to-success, and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk-taking,” Sweeney said. “Ben’s now set to bring those same attributes to bear for the larger group, and I could not be more thrilled. This announcement simply highlights the fact that our talent and succession planning process works.”
While attention had been focused on who would replace Anne Sweeney atop Disney/ABC’s TV Group, observers ponder what the choice would say about Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger plans for the future of the company. Thomas Staggs and Jay Rasulo both have already done stints as CFO and head of the Disney parks division and are considered leading contenders to succeed Iger in the top post when he departs in 2016. If one of them is chosen to oversee Disney’s non-sports TV assets, the appointment would anoint that executive as an Iger heir apparent as the job would give him entertainment experience, a background both Iger and his predecessor Michael Eisner had before taking on the CEO job. For whoever within the Disney Co. takes the job (and Iger had indicated he doesn’t intend to look outside the company), it would be a learning curve. The only executive with experience in both TV programming and managing global portfolio, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, is under a long-term contract at a very successful company, which Disney doesn’t own outright but is a 50-50 partner with Hearst, making a transition to Disney-ABC problematic (though not impossible).
The other possibility that has been gaining momentum — of splitting Sweeney’s portfolio into two — is even more intriguing. ABC’s morning golden boy, News President Ben Sherwood, is being groomed for a Jeff Zucker-type career trajectory from morning TV to a top network job, with another executive, like Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC Stations Group, possibly overseeing the rest of the portfolio.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview CinemaCon, the big annual gathering of theater operators in Las Vegas that puts the popcorn in popcorn movies. They also examine the NAB’s claims to the FCC of a faltering local TV business; update the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger with news from the states; whistle through the highlights of the relatively quiescent Disney annual meeting; examine the implications of the recent settlement of the long-running Viacom-YouTube copyright lawsuit; and ponder what’s next for Yahoo, given the imminent stock IPO by Alibaba, which it partly owns.
LOS ANGELES – March 20, 2014 – IMAX Corporation (NYSE:IMAX; TSX:IMX) and The Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS), today announced an agreement to release several of Disney’s upcoming films in IMAX® theatres under an extension of the companies’ long-running relationship.
Under the agreement, IMAX will be part of Disney’s release strategy for its most highly-anticipated live-action tentpole films, including Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 2014), Maleficent (May 2014), Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (August 2014), and Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 2015), Tomorrowland (May 2015) and Star Wars: Episode VII (December 2015).