UPDATE, 10:55 AM: The Motion Picture Association of America applauded Congressional passage today of a massive tax overhaul, saying it’s a good deal for the entertainment industry.
“H.R. 1 will promote further economic growth across American industries, including the U.S. film and television sector, which supports two million jobs and a network of thousands of small businesses across all 50 states,” said MPAA Chairman Charles Rivkin. “This legislation will advance our nation’s global competitiveness and encourage additional investment at home.”
That makes at least one prominent Democrat offering support for a tax bill that his party has denounced as a tax cut for the wealthy, and which passed without a single Democratic vote. Before serving as the motion picture industry’s advocate in Washington, D.C., Rivkin was the California finance co-chair for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and later his ambassador to France.
PREVIOUS, Dec. 19: Liberal Hollywood, which has been outspokenly, ardently anti-Trump, stands to benefit generously from the first major legislative victory of his administration — the massive tax overhaul making its way to the White House.
The entertainment industry would reap billions from the tax cut’s permanent cut in the corporate tax rate, which would drop to 21% from the current 35%. Most of the major entertainment companies — Disney, Comcast, 21st Century Fox — pay an effective rate of more than 30%, according to an analysis by research firm FactSet.
That lower rate would translate to an estimated $6 billion tax windfall, based on one calculation using 2016 reported corporate earnings.
According to a Credit Suisse analysis, the media sector ranks No. 9 among all U.S. industries with an effective rate of 29.1%. Tech services, hardware and software have much lower tax burdens–effective rates in the high-teens to low-20s–giving them a less clear benefit from the tax revamp. That’s one reason tech stocks recently have been slumping compared with traditional media shares.
The irony of supporting the tax break, even though it is being achieved by Donald Trump and the party at odds with most of show business, is not lost on anyone. But other parts of the media industry have long been closer with Trump and the G.O.P., including AT&T chief Randall Stephenson, notwithstanding the government’s current lawsuit aiming to block its acquisition of Time Warner.
“We thank Speaker Ryan and Chairman Brady for their leadership to enact meaningful tax reform that brings the U.S. corporate tax rate in line with the rest of the industrialized world,” Stephenson said in a statement. “This bill will spur much-needed investment and economic growth in the United States.”
Since 2012, the company says, it has invested more in the U.S. than any other public company. Research cited by AT&T indicates that every $1 billion in capital invested in the telecom industry creates about 7,000 jobs for American workers.
During several recent earnings calls this fall, and the UBS conference earlier this month, media execs acknowledged the likely windfall coming their way. This morning, analyst Michael Morris of Guggenheim raised his price target for Comcast, citing the company’s “advantageous tax position.”
Many of those more connected with the entertainment and studio realm take a different view. Abigail Disney, grandniece of Walt, blasted the current tax overhaul process in a recent USA Today op-ed as “rash, ill-conceived and opaque,” and urged Congress not to “cut taxes for rich people like me.”
Another facet of the tax overhaul, which passed the House today and is expected to sail through the Senate on its way to the president’s desk before Christmas, would improve incentives for domestic film and television production. The bill would allow studios to expense 100% of capital investment for film, television and live theatrical productions where the majority of the costs (75%) are incurred in the U.S.
This full expense would be allowed through 2022, when the amount a studio can deduct declines by 20% annually over the next five years. The industry, which lobbied for this benefit, argued that it makes the U.S. more competitive with places like London, which have lured film production off shore with generous financial incentives.
One final boon for the industry is the favorable tax treatment it gives to foreign-derived income for U.S. intellectual property. The tax overhaul would lower the tax rate on offshore revenue — including movie tickets sold in China or licensing fees paid to distribute a TV show in Brazil. The tax rate would fall to 12.5% (offset by foreign tax).