Today in Thanks, I Hate It news, David Zaslav and Bob Bakish reportedly met (over lunch) earlier this week to discuss a merger between Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global.
Zaslav you know as the guy who gets booed everywhere he goes, and Bakish was named CEO of Viacom in 2016, then Paramount Global when Viacom and CBS Corp realigned as one company in 2019. He is credited with turning Viacom around in the 2010s, but Paramount has been plagued with debt for years, and every few months another cycle of “Shari Redstone wants to sell her shares” rumors kick off, so it has been years since Paramount has given the impression of being a robust, healthy studio. Selling Paramount seems inevitable, but does it have to be another f-cking merger that sees the number of Hollywood studios dwindle even further?
I got called Chicken Little when I was pessimistic about the Disney-Fox merger, but that hasn’t turned out well. Disney is saddled with debt, one of the major contributors to its stock fall, there are hundreds of classic Fox titles simply unavailable to the viewing public, and rather than create new opportunities for production, Disney is making less stuff than ever. These mergers are bad! They don’t help the industry, they don’t help creatives, they don’t benefit the customer, and they seem to leave massive debt trails whenever they occur. The only people who benefit are the major shareholders, and when they want to cash out their stock options, there seems to be no stopping them.
I would love to put my faith in the US Department of Justice to scupper this potential merger on antitrust/anti-competition grounds, but there is not a single politician of any party who gets in the way of a rich person getting richer. Shari Redstone, daughter of Sumner Redstone (who turned his father’s chain of drive-in movie theaters into one of the biggest global media brands via hostile takeover in the 1980s and once told a woman “I’m a panther and I’m going to pounce” before he allegedly assaulted her), has a net worth estimated at $500 million. A mere hundred millionaire! How mortifying! Of course, she must sell one of the last legacy Hollywood studios in order to show her face in Biarritz!
Whether Redstone is just looking to sell Paramount Global, which includes Paramount Studios, BET, and streaming platform Paramount+ among other things, or if she’s looking to sell National Amusements, the family business, in its entirety is unclear. It’s also unclear how much restructuring will have to go on with both companies to make this happen. Redstone is already exploring selling off BET and its portfolio to a group led by Byron Allen for a reported $3.5 billion.
On Warners’ side, the deal does make some sense, as it would give WBD a broadcast network and, more importantly, live sports, especially football, which is basically the only thing making money on broadcast television anymore. It would also beef up their streaming platform, adding CBS’s roster of procedurals to go with Discovery’s slew of true crime programming, and bringing in Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone-verse to bridge the audience between the high-falutin’ programming of HBO and the trash mountain of Discovery/ID’s reality programming.
But, of course, it also jeopardizes Paramount’s legacy library which includes film such as Sunset Boulevard, The Greatest Show on Earth, Shane, The War of the Worlds, Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hud, The Godfather trilogy, Serpico, Chinatown, the Star Trek series and franchise, Urban Cowboy, Airplane!, Top Gun, Ghost—in every decade Paramount has major, major films, all of which would be at the mercy of a CEO with a track record of devaluing art and artists. It’s the studio of Cecil B. DeMille, Roberts Evans’ 70s renaissance, and most of Tom Cruise’s filmography. And you’re going to trust David Zaslav to caretake it?
On the one hand, reports insist these are “early” talks, but they also say Zaslav has hired bankers to crunch the numbers on a deal, and he’s supposedly talked directly with Shari Redstone, too. One thing is clear, though, whether she sells it all lock, stock, and barrel to Warner Bros. Discovery or any other company, or if she chops up Paramount Global to maximize her stock options across multiple buyers, Shari Redstone is determined to become a billionaire, and f-ck whoever actually cares about film and legacy media anymore.