Freelance journalist Dominic Patten is covering the trial for Deadline.
After two weeks of testimony and more than a dozen witnesses including current and past presidents of both Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Dick Clark Productions, their court battle over TV rights to the Golden Globes is now in a holding pattern. At the core of the dispute is a 1993 amendment to DCP’s longtime contract with the HFPA. The production company says the amendment grants them rights in perpetuity to the Golden Globes as long as the show is broadcast on NBC, which it has been since 1996. The HFPA says it does no such thing. When DCP signed a $150 million deal with NBC in 2010 extending the network pact until 2018, HFPA took the production company to court.
On Tuesday, Judge A. Howard Matz implored both parties to take the time before their lawyers begin closing arguments on Friday, February 10th to try to come to a settlement. As Deadline reported previously, neither side is talking to the other and some close to the case believe a settlement is unlikely.
Having watched almost every minute of the trial, here are a few observations both sides might want to consider:
CLEAN HOUSE: DCP certainly has issues of its own, like bald-faced lying to NBC during negotiations — more politely known as bluffing. But the cloistered 85-odd members of the HFPA need to clean house and create a professional organization. The parade of former HFPA presidents such as Phil Berk and Mirjana Van Blaricom and staff members have revealed a viper’s pit of in-fighting. It has also revealed a lack of business savvy — which is pretty bad when you are handling a multi-million-dollar asset like the Globes.
RIGHTS = RICHES: This is of course all about money. Nobody would be wasting more than five minutes in court if the once very nearly D.O.A. Globes weren’t now worth many millions of dollars. NBC, which has been broadcasting the show since 1996, is paying $21.5 million annually, split 50/50 between DCP and the HFPA minus overhead, to broadcast until 2018. It is also, as DCP’s often glib CEO Mark Shapiro noted, about rights. Not just the rights to the show but the rights to all the other associated Globes branded content that either didn’t exist or wasn’t considered when DCP and the HFPA made their agreements back in the 1980s and ’90s.
DIGITAL, PRE-SHOW, POST-SHOW, ARCHIVE — there are all sorts of Globes rights just waiting for someone to assemble a comprehensive package. Shapiro testified that in the late spring of 2010, while beginning negotiations with NBC, he had discussions with Phil Berk and HFPA representatives on broadening the HFPA-DCP deal to include these new rights and the potentially lucrative revenue they represent. Shapiro said he seriously considered, with DCP Board approval, dropping the 1993 perpetuity amendment for a single 20-year extension and the ability to shop the show to networks other than NBC if he could make those other rights part of the package. If maximizing revenue is the goal for the HFPA and DCP — which is now owned by private equity firm Red Zone Capitol — then they might want to stop fighting old wars and think about mutually seizing the bigger prize right in front of them.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Without a settlement any ruling by Judge Matz is certain to be appealed by the losing side. As Matz noted, that would mean the 2013 Globes would take place under the same legal cloud as this year’s event. So why not agree to let time and cooler heads prevail? The clock on the contract in dispute will run out anyway in 2018. Both sides could tell the judge that they want to spend the next approximately 2,170 days, as the Globes continue to air on NBC, working out a new, comprehensive deal.
It is not unimaginable. As DCP CEO Shapiro said during the trial, both sides conducted themselves professionally to ensure the 2012 Globes went off smoothly. With the money at stake and the risk that if this isn’t resolved, NBC/Comcast might decide to weigh in legally to protect a scheduled asset. Detente seems far more preferable for both sides than mutually assured litigation — which is where this looks to be heading.
CLASH OF THE TITANIC EGOS: Watching the personalities involved on both sides, it isn’t hard to see why this has ended up the way it has. If Phil Berk and his faction at the HFPA and DCP’s Mark Shapiro and his corporate masters Dan Snyder and the Red Zone gang can’t work it out, perhaps they should bring in a mediator. Previous attempts at mediation have failed, but what if a credible industry heavyweight was brought in? Maybe a former studio head, media company CEO or other mogul could gain the respect of all concerned and play broker.
Otherwise, as DCP lawyer Marty Katz pointed out in his opening statement more than two weeks ago, the Golden Globes could easily again become “damaged goods” and nobody wins.