Nikki Finke who is on vacation will have a fuller Loeb vs Sony report soon.
Apparently, The Most Hated Man In Hollywood just wasn’t comfortable being labeled “The Most Dangerous Man To Our Industry” by George Clooney for all the world to read (via Mike Fleming’s exclusive Deadline interview and carried by Yahoo this past weekend). So now Third Point hedge fund CEO Daniel Loeb claims today he’s backing off Sony. But only after the putz created chaos and confusion inside a stable and successful studio, destabilized Michael Lynton’s and Amy Pascal’s and Jeff Blake’s management because two summer films After Earth and White House Down bombed at the domestic box office in what is a cyclical business, and imperiled many current jobs and future projects there. It’s disgusting. Not only does he seek to profit from the misfortunes of countries (Greece) and corporations (Sony after Howard Stringer crashed and burned the once great electronics giant), but in this case bullies a major entertainment company to the brink. Now Loeb will simply retreat to his East Coast dream homes and not give Hollywood another thought until the next time he feels the urge to kvetch. Kudos to Clooney for having the balls to hold up Loeb to public scorn. And congrats to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai for not panicking or pressuring top executives to leave just to appease Loeb. Nice work, too, by producer Lynda Obst who gave a very forceful and cogent defense of SPE on CNBC yesterday. As for Ashton Kutcher and his worthless opinion, let’s see how his career careens when his Jobs indie flops and CBS/Warner Bros no longer pays him to make Two And A Half Men even more unwatchable.
Loeb today did an about-face and claimed to Variety he was backing off Lynton, Pascal, et al: “We support Hirai, and to the extent that he supports his management team and they can meet the board’s initiatives around transparency and profit margin improvement, I see no reason [the current executives] cannot do that. It is a decision for Mr. Hirai to make.” This is after Hirai sent a letter to Third Point (which owns 7% of Sony) and rejected Loeb’s unsolicited proposal to spinoff Sony’s entertainment unit. Suddenly Loeb was calling Hirai’s letter “thoughtfully written and detailed in its discussion of profitability and transparency. There was a lot there for shareholders to hang their hats on.” Loeb also admitted “it is probably unfair to focus on one or two bad movies, just in the way that Third Point from time to time can have one or two bad months or a bad year. … We’re really not focused on individual movies or their slate. I know I mentioned that in the last letter, but at this point it is more productive to support management and the goals advanced by Mr. Hirai in his letter.”
Loeb clearly never counted on being outed by Clooney for “knowing nothing about our business” and dissed so publicly and forcefully and publicly by the filmmaker. Loeb replied: “Notwithstanding the fact that the media likes to create a stir, I admire Mr. Clooney’s passion for Sony and his loyalty to Sony and his friends there.” But Loeb nervily suggested he and Clooney share a “common goal: a more disciplined company with better allocation of capital means less money spent on bureaucracy and more investment in motion pictures. We are all for intelligent investment in creative content. I believe our interests are aligned in a way he probably doesn’t realize.”
What’s next? Well, Loeb as with Sony was initially rebuffed by Yahoo management but didn’t stop destabilizing that Internet company until the CEO was replaced and operations overhauled. Loeb explains the difference: “Only three months into our investment, Yahoo had completely rebuffed us. The chairman hung up on me in a phone conversation…This is a sharp contrast. The only thing they rebuffed was the spinoff proposal. They took our suggestions seriously and acted on them.” Regarding Sony, “We will monitor their performance in coming quarters and revisit Sony’s progress around the time of next year’s annual meeting. [We will] continue to be highly engaged, maintain a dialogue with management, and expect to offer further suggestions to increase shareholder value. What we would expect is more disclosure and a more detailed plan for how they will improve profitability in their entertainment division, including specific profitability targets.”
I hope Hollywood expresses its disdain for Loeb’s despicable tactics by not reading or advertising in Variety, the in-house newsletter he owns with my boss Jay Penske. Loeb should learn his actions have consequences – even if his Variety investment is flea-sized for a billionaire who made $500M off a single Greek bond bet.