News that Edgar Bronfman Jr. is trying to buy back Universal Studios and Universal Music Group may have been greeted with skepticism on Wall Street last week, but at the Black Tower there were sighs of relief.
Bronfman, rebuffed as an outsider with a liquor inheritance when his Seagram spirits company bought up Universal in 1995, now is being hailed by U insiders as one of their own.
“It’s very positive,” says one U exec. “That he would be getting in the market, and that he would be our choice — it’s good news.”
No one at Universal would discuss Bronfman on the record — not least because Viv U can’t give its vice-chairman (who owns 4% of the company) preferential treatment. But from the perspective of studio and music execs, Bronfman clearly means stability. After all, he hired Ron Meyer to run Universal Studios and Doug Morris to head Universal Music after Seagram bought MCA from Matsushita.
From the standpoint of self-preservation, then, U insiders view the Bronfman bid as bringing the least likelihood of a management shakeup.
To a lesser extent, the same is true of the bid of oil tycoon Marvin Davis, who has teamed with former Universal co-chairman Brian Mulligan — another known quantity.
Most likely to shake things up would be Liberty Media’s John Malone (who is in cahoots with Barry Diller, dreaded at U for the cost-cutting he proposed when he held the reins of Viv U Entertainment) and Viacom’s Sumner Redstone, who may try to merge the studio with his Paramount.
But to finance a bid in the neighborhood of $15 billion, Bronfman will need to win over Wall Street. He’s never commanded much respect as a manager there, where he’s seen by some as more a daddy’s boy than a savvy operator.
Cablevision’s Jim Dolan, son of founder Chuck Dolan, who may be part of Bronfman’s bid, doesn’t win kudos, either, owing to his hot-headed rep.
Such concerns, however, probably won’t preclude Bronfman from finding money.
And investors can’t be too unhappy: The welcome addition of another bidder sent Viv U stock up more than 12% to $18.10 in the two days after Bronfman emerged as a possible buyer.