Variety normally delivers between 3-6 copies of its print edition to Relativity Media. On Tuesday morning the trade hand-delivered 50 copies of the weekly with its “Debt Of A Salesman” cover story about the company to Relativity’s offices. Immediately Relativity insiders criticized the move to me as “a desperate move for attention” for “a highly speculative story with an uninformed premise”. Hey, this is progress. The last time a media outlet wrote about Relativity in any depth — Ron Burkle Talks Ryan Kavanaugh To The New Yorker — Relativity’s lawyer demanded the article’s retraction and removal from the website. I’m told no legal letter went out this time around — just company spin. Is this a kinder gentler Ryan Kavanaugh under investor Ron Burkle’s tutelage? Well, a less confrontational CEO trying to stay out of the press.
That said, here is Relativity’s on-the-record statement from a company spokesperson to me about Variety’s published gaze into a crystal ball speculating about Relativity’s debt repayment prospects over the next 5-7 years: “Variety invented a fundamentally flawed thesis and then tried as hard as they could to prove it. Unfortunately the best that they could come up with over four pages was one generic quote from a banking analyst and a silly attempt to predict the unpredictable — what may or may not happen in 2018.”
Off the record, a source close to Relativity complains: “Variety bases its piece on $100M of debt that Relativity has to repay over 5-7 years. Has Variety ever heard of refinancing? They don’t understand corporate finance. Most highly successful companies use debt financing as part of their growth strategy. And the only on-the-record quote in a four-page story is from a mid-tier analyst from RBC Capital. Is this the new, harder-hitting Variety? If so, they’ve failed miserably.”
To be fair, I’m always suspicious of speculative articles about showbiz companies and their futures because it’s a cyclical business where one hit can stop the flow of red ink. On the other hand, it’s hard for journalists to get factual intel about Relativity because of Kavanaugh’s fondness for confidentiality agreements among his executives, filmmakers, bankers, investors, etc. Ergo the impasse. [Full disclosure: Deadline in the past received threatening communications from Relativity because of my "Ryan Goes Off The Rails" reporting on 2011 turmoil inside the company and with investor Elliott Management Corp. More recently we stopped running Relativity press releases unless Deadline could obtain independent confirmation of company claims.]