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Peter Bart Column – Deadline




With yet another round of major layoffs about to hit Hollywood, I remember Ben Hecht’s explanation of how he made his peace with the city. “The key is to understand how to balance misery with money,” he wrote.

Arriving in Hollywood at the zenith of the studio system, Hecht wrote that everyone he met was working, but also complaining. Well-paying jobs were plentiful – for handles, extras, even writers. Studio contracts kept stars adorned with jewelry but not wealthy. The dreaded studio heads were autocratic but also not wealthy by today’s billionaire standards. The Hollywood ecosystem was functioning in its own self-protective way, everyone was doing well but wanted more.

If Hecht were here today, he would wonder why it doesn’t work so well anymore (he managed to become the highest paid writer). He would be particularly fascinated by the melodrama surrounding AT&T and its Hollywood protectorate, WarnerMedia, which this week begins to cut costs by an additional 20% at a time when some 840,000 more Americans are asking for unemployment aid across the country (some 600 workers from studio were cut August).

Peter Bart: Despite billionaire funding and lofty goals, Discord is still LA Times main title

Analysts also see imminent layoffs at other studios, noting Disney’s further restructuring of its streaming services – some 28,000 Disney layoffs were recently announced after 100,000 global holidays in August – and potential unrest among investors in d ‘other companies, such as MGM, resulting from the delayed release. major productions, especially the James Bond film.

Studio managers are no longer the main targets of complaints, with studios taking their place of easement in new corporate structures. In fact, as AT&T mandated its new round of cuts, the CEO who triggered the acquisition of WarnerMedia, Randall Stephenson, announced his retirement at age 60. AT&T’s severance gift has totaled him nearly $ 100 million in retirement and deferred earnings.

The phone company’s $ 85 billion acquisition of WarnerMedia reflected Wall Street’s belief in the long-term growth of the world’s entertainment industry. Disney had previously asserted this doctrine with its acquisitions of Pixar and Lucasfilm, although some merchants are now questioning whether it overpaid its biggest contract, Fox. Comcast, owner of NBCUniversal, had also forged its commitment to the acquisition, though some bankers are now questioning whether it paid too much for SkyNews (the company was reluctant to lose the Fox deal) .

The questioning of AT & T’s initiatives, however, received the widest attention. Elliott Management, a hedge fund, has publicly stated that AT&T is already overinvested in problematic media assets, such as DirecTV, whose current value of $ 20 billion is less than half of what AT&T has. paid in 2015, according to some analysts.

While AT&T shares are down 27% so far this year, John Stankey, its new CEO and a self-proclaimed “Bellhead,” said the assets were not set in stone, adding : “There is nothing sacred anywhere in the business, and WarnerMedia is no exception. Stankey himself earned $ 17.8 million in 2019 and did not disclose that year’s pay.

None of this brings peace of mind to WarnerMedia, which already cut some 500 jobs in August split between HBO, TBS, TNT and the television and film studio Warner Bros, which employed some 30,000 earlier this year.

While leaders continue to ride at the executive level, it is certain that some of the displaced have already found new ventures in the financial arena. Two former Disney lunatics, Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer, revealed this week that they would join Shaquille O’Neal in starting a media acquisition company that Wall Street calls a “blank check company.” It’s designed to do business, not content. According to the SEC filing, some $ 250 million will help write the initial “blank check”. Last week, Shaquille accidentally put his mega mansion outside Orlando up for sale for $ 19.5 million, but claims he didn’t need the money to write the blank checks.

Since Goldman Sachs bankers saw their income increase 95% this year, ex-Disneyites seem to be asking, “Why mess with Hollywood when Wall Street doesn’t even recognize the word ‘cutbacks’?”

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