“The film business is about 10 years behind the TV business,” Universal boss Jeff Shell said today at the Milken Conference in Beverly Hills about the change coming to the big-screen bottom line.
“The movie business is going to fast get into the format business internationally,” he added, envisioning the industry looking to aim for local or regional markets as a possible alternatives to an overall solo project. “If you are going to be successful, you have to have TV shows and films that appeal to your market,” Shell said, with an emphasis toward diversity being common sense in regards to companies’ bottom lines.
“You’ve got to speak to your audience,” CBS boss Les Moonves chimed in. “To not speak to them is not only wrong but stupid from a business point of view,” he added, citing the vast U.S. Hispanic viewership as an example.
In what has become an almost annual event for the ever-quotable Moonves, the CBS boss was joined onstage again by Shell and DreamWorks Animation’s current chair Mellody Hobson and CAA president Richard Lovett. The quartet was appearing as part of the four-day conference’s panel titled Entertainment: Riding the Global Wave.
— Milken Institute (@MilkenInstitute) May 4, 2016
Today’s panel, hosted by CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, comes just one day after CBS beat earnings expectations for Q1 and less than a week after Universal’s parent company Comcast picked up DreamWorks Animation for a nifty $3.8 billion.
“They have an incredible brand, and for us we felt we would be the best custodians for them,” Shell said about the pending purchase of DWA. Added DWA chair and leading investor Hobson: “We are not trying to be all things to all people and stand for something specific. I think specifically for DreamWorks, our company, our movies and our TV show have a personality. They were always a little irreverent and play to both the child and the grownup, and that brought the whole family into our films.
“They called and made a very compelling offer,” Hobson recalled about how the multibillion-dollar deal announced last week happened. “We’re stewards of our shareholders, and we have to do what’s best for our shareholders,” she noted, calling this a time of great change. “We don’t know what this (industry) will look like in the next decade.”
“Now, when the deal closes, we have a great animated TV business,” Shell said of bringing DWA into the fold, noting how Comcast could use events like the Olympics to promote DWA projects in a way the Jeffrey Katzenberg-run company couldn’t. “Both stocks went up when we did the deal, so obviously investors thought it was a good idea.”
Said Moonves: “It’s one of those deals that you just say, ‘Of course.’ ” Asked if he would pick up the likes of Starz or Lionsgate in the near future, the CBS exec said: “We feel we are a company about to explode, but it has to be the right asset. The price and quality may not be the same as DreamWorks is.” Moonves pivoted from directly answering what his upcoming acquisitions might be.
“The world has become a very small place,” Moonves said earlier in the panel. “The way we distribute our content has changed so much over the past 18 months [but] at the bottom of it is good content. If you have crap, no one’s going to watch it.”
Talking on the overriding topic of change, Moonves noted to the well-heeled crowd that “it used to be CBS was a front-end company, concerned with ratings and advertising.” Citing the sale of content domestically and internationally over various platforms today, he then said, “Now advertising is less than 50% of our business.”
He added, “In a digital marketplace, the sky’s the limit,” noting that as recently as eight years ago, CBS international sales were $500 million, and today they are $1.6 billion.
Today’s heavyweight panel also comes less than 48 hours before the trial over who is in charge of ex-Viacom and CBS chair Sumner Redstone’s health care starts in downtown L.A. With a 30-minute deposition being taken at the media mogul’s home either today or tomorrow, that non-jury trial is expected to include testimony from Redstone via video and transcripts early on May 6. Unsurprisingly, with around $40 billion in media assets in Viacom and CBS in play at some level, the trial was not addressed. Earlier in the day, Moonves said in a TV interview that he doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation — but you know, with Redstone still controlling 80% of the voting shares at Viacom and CBS, that Moonves will be paying very close attention.