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Viacom thaw on DreamWorks

Company shifts stance on studio

Speaking in the very same Gotham hotel where he asserted that a DreamWorks exit would have “no material impact” on Viacom’s balance sheet, the conglom’s chief exec, Philippe Dauman, changed his tune Monday.

“We are very happy to have one of the great filmmakers of our time and actually of all time with us,” Dauman said at the 35th annual UBS Global Media Week & Communications Conference. He meant DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg, whom Jeffrey Katzenberg defended in September after Dauman’s comments, with Katzenberg proclaiming the filmmaker a “national treasure” and criticizing Dauman’s cold shoulder as “ill-advised.”

“Steven and I have a good personal relationship. I’ve been spending time with him and enjoy him,” Dauman told investors. “We’re going to proceed with calm, with deliberateness, and our entire objective is to focus on making him happy doing what he’s doing. Whatever makes him happy and makes us happy will be the way it works out.”

Dauman said there was no timetable for resolving the issue of DreamWorks’ future status. He pointed to efforts to solidify ties with DreamWorks Animation, whose output deal runs through 2013.

An hour before Dauman’s comments, NBC U prexy-chief exec Jeff Zucker appeared at the UBS event, but declined to speculate at much length about DreamWorks and premature speculation that it is finalizing a deal to migrate to NBC Universal.

“I’m not going to judge somebody’s business and what is going on there,” Zucker said. Were DreamWorks to become available, however, “We have a long history with them and we have incredible respect for their abilities. We’ll see. But Universal Pictures is on a great trajectory, and we feel great about that.”

So, Zucker was waggishly asked, at 25% of NBC U’s total revenue, is Universal considered material?

“They are very material,” he replied.

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