Successful execs share their philosophy
COO, Marvel Studios
“This has been a good year for Marvel,” Connors says modestly. Bumped up to chief operating officer in December 2008, the former deputy general counsel for Technicolor now manages day-to-day operations and oversees business transactions for all studio productions. His dealmaking bottom line? Staying on the same page as your colleagues. “I’ve been at other places that have gotten into trouble (by not doing it) that way,” he says. “We won’t make an offer unless we’re in sync internally.”
Also key: Seeing the opposing negotiators as allies. “If you’re in the room, you both want the deal to close,” he says. “Keep everyone focused on how to make that happen instead of on your respective positions. I never want to take advantage of anyone’s mistake. It ruins the relationship. You want them to feel good about the deal and be in business with you long into the future.”
This is particularly important in Connors’ franchise-heavy world. “I’ve spent a lot of time building in options for the future — contemplating up to eight or nine films. We also have to leave in as much flexibility as possible for the creative team to develop the Marvel universe.”
It goes beyond film. Marvel’s Korean theme park deal, for instance, is a new model that can be replicated in other markets “and reprogrammed as film slate,” he says, “introducing new audiences to the brand where we have less of a cultural footprint.”
KEY DEALS: Recovered sequel rights in renegotiated distrib deal with Paramount. Ten-pic output deal with FX. Kumkwang Korean theme park license. Options to include Robert Downey Jr. and others in multiple installments of multiple franchises.
TECH TOOL: BlackBerry
TOP CAUSES: Oceanic Preservation Society, Audubon Society, TreePeople
ROLE MODEL: Marvel Entertainment general counsel John Turitzin
Former CEO, CME
MICHAEL DEL NIN
Senior VP, intl. and corporate strategy, Time Warner
Garin, who stepped down as CEO of Central European Media Enterprises in December ’08, initiated one last deal before retiring from a lifetime in the media business: the CME/Time Warner agreement, announced in March, when 31% of CME stock was sold to Time Warner for $241.5 million. It took two years to get the deal from initiation to completion, he says.
The pact gives TW access to profitable TV markets in Central and Eastern Europe (where CME has a stable of channels in seven countries) and CME access to a major partner for developing content.
The long gestation period was due to the volatility of share prices for both companies during the past two years. The deal valued CME shares at between $12 and $15 during a period when they were trading at around $6-$8.
An indication of the deal’s success: CME share prices climbed swiftly upon its announcement.
Garin, now retired in Paris, began his career with Time Inc. in 1969. He co-founded Lorimar Telepictures in 1978 and later sold it to Warner Bros. “I still have a lot of friends and colleagues at Time Warner, and that formed the basis for this deal,” Garin says.
The deal was consummated under the guidance of Del Nin and CME’s new CEO, Adrian Sarbu, who helped build CME’s presence in his native Romania.
The youthful Del Nin made a name for himself as veep for business development at New Line soon after landing there in 2001 from Salomon Smith Barney. Now he oversees global strategy and business development for New Line parent Time Warner.
“We identified Central and Eastern Europe as a priority,” Del Nin says. Buying CME made sense because a key factor was “finding a company with a large presence and someone we trusted and could see partnering with for several years.”
KEY DEAL: Time Warner acquisition of 31% of stock in Ronald Lauder’s CME stable of Central and Eastern European TV channels for $241.5 million.
TECH TOOLS: Garin: MacBook and iPod Touch, “no crackberry.” Del Nin: Facebook and BlackBerry.
TOP CAUSES: Garin: Cousteau Society. Del Nin: After School Arts Program.
ROLE MODELS: Garin: Former Time Inc. CEO and civic leader Andrew Heiskell. Del Nin: Grandparents.
Gumpert is blunt about the worldwide economic recession. “If you listen to some people, we’re bouncing off of it,” he says, “but from my perspective, Hollywood is still in it and we’re seeing a continual drop.
“I’m working on traditional first-dollar deals,” Gumpert adds, “but because of the economic decline, we need to shift paradigmwise from the first-dollar model to some kind of yet to-be-defined sharing arrangement, after a breakeven point, when the studio has recouped its costs — because it costs more than a dollar to turn the lights on here every day.
“That paradigm shift leads to a lot of explanation and longer negotiations,” he adds. “This has been a big game-changer for me.”
KEY DEALS: Securing rights to “2012″ with Roland Emmerich as director. Deal for Angelina Jolie on “Salt.” Oversaw all pacts for “Spider-Man 4.”
TECH TOOL: BlackBerry
TOP CAUSE: Epilepsy Foundation
ROLE MODEL: Father Jon, former head of business affairs at Universal
A former indie video retailer who helped start Netflix, Lowe developed Redbox DVD rental kiosks with McDonald’s. With DVD sales falling off and Blu-ray and digital distribution not growing rapidly enough to make up the difference, Lowe offers Redbox’s studio supporters guaranteed coin — $460 million over five years for Sony, $158 million for Lionsgate and $575 million for Paramount.
He sweetens the pot by taking his partners’ misses along with the hits and disposing of, rather than selling to consumers, used rental inventory from Redbox kiosks. But detractors see Redbox’s growth — it has 20,000 $1-per-night DVD rental kiosks and adds one per hour — more as a cause of declining revenue than a solution.
Unable to come to terms with Lowe, Universal, Fox and Warner all hold back their titles to the kiosk operator until at least four weeks after their general home entertainment release. Lowe’s response: He’s slapped all three with antitrust suits and sends a small army of Redbox agents out to buy the studios’ DVDs at Walmart, Best Buy and the like each week.
KEY DEALS: In July and August, struck separate deals to pay $1.2 billion combined to three studios over the next five years for DVDs to be stocked in Redbox’s kiosks. Also has a less formal deal with Disney.
TECH TOOLS: Microsoft Outlook, BlackBerry, Slingbox
TOP CAUSE: Diversity in the workplace
ROLE MODEL: Simon de Montfort, leader of 13th-century baron rebellion against England’s King Henry III and the first leader to call for a directly elected Parliament.
MORT MARCUS and IRA BERNSTEIN
Marcus and Bernstein proved to be scrappy entrepreneurs during the past five years as their indie syndie shingle, Debmar-Mercury, prospered amid a generally down market for syndication.
Now they’ve upped the ante with an innovative approach to producing comedy series that run simultaneously on cable and in firstrun syndication. Debmar-Mercury blazed this trail with Tyler Perry for his TBS laffers “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns,” and now it’s trying it with other personalities who have a built-in fanbase, such as Ice Cube and Jon Heder.
“Everybody came to us and said, ‘I want to do the Tyler deal,’?” Bernstein reports. “The advantage for high-level talent is that they have real equity and ownership of the show this way.”
Marcus and Bernstein both came up as sales execs for larger distribs: Marcus at Disney, Bernstein at Rysher Entertainment. Although Lionsgate bought Debmar-Mercury in 2006 for $27 million, the duo operate autonomously — and aggressively.
“We don’t have anybody
handing us product to sell like you have when you work for a studio,” Marcus says. “We have to do it on our own.”
KEY DEALS: Jon Heder/Gary Sanchez Prods. show for Comedy Central; Ice Cube/Revolution Studios adaptation of “Are We There Yet” for TBS; launch of daytime yakker “The Wendy Williams Show.”
TECH TOOLS: Marcus: BlackBerry, Outlook, Kindle; Bernstein: BlackBerry
TOP CAUSES: Marcus: Santa Monica’s People Assisting the Homeless; Bernstein: Muscular Dystrophy Assn.
ROLE MODELS: Marcus: Distribution veteran Jerry Kurtz; Bernstein: Nick Trigony, former president of Cox Television.
Since leaving her father’s empire in 2000 to strike out on her own, Murdoch has built Shine from scratch into a global TV and film producer with sales of $390 million in 2008. The past couple of years have seen her embark on a veritable deal spree across multiple territories and platforms.
Given that she’s Rupert’s daughter, her drive, ambition and appetite for big deals come as no surprise. What makes her different, according to those who have worked closely with her, is her human touch. “She’s got a very clear vision of what she’s trying to achieve and a can-do attitude, but unlike many people like that, she’s genuinely able to inspire and motivate her team to deliver,” says one insider. “She’s not some aggressive brute, but charming, collaborative and a true leader.”
KEY DEALS: Bought U.S. shingle Reveille from Ben Silverman and set up distrib arm ShineReveille Intl.; forged film producing alliance with New Regency; snapped up Scandinavia’s biggest TV group, Metronome; launched new companies in France, Germany and Australia; started partnership with former Bebo exec Joanna Shields to develop unit that will operate across TV production and online social media. Plan calls for Shine to beef up the online exploitation of its content.
TOP CAUSE: Tate Gallery
ROLE MODEL: Philanthropist grandmother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch