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Golden goose

Oscar-bump loses luster in conglom era

Investors, gussying up for Oscar night with wallets lightened by a dismal stock market, might well wonder if that gold best picture statuette has a Midas touch for the winner’s share price.

It might have — once upon a time. Before mergers turned most studios into small appendages of media giants. And if the few players best positioned for a stock run-up were actually in the game.

The studio with the biggest upside potential at this year’s Academy Awards would be MGM, a pure-play film company. But the Lion hasn’t won a best picture Oscar in years and wasn’t even nominated this time. Neither was 20th Century Fox, whose Fox Entertainment parent is only film and TV since it was spun off from News Corp., a split that would have made it more responsive to Oscar gold — if it had had a contender.

And DreamWorks, which partnered with Universal on best pic nominees “Gladiator” and “Eric Brockovich,” would surely have seen its shares flutter higher — if, that is, it wasn’t a private company.

“If the stock market were better and if Steven Spielberg was willing to put up with the bullshit of a public company, this might have been a good time” for DreamWorks to launch an IPO, says one fund manager. (A public DreamWorks would also have to open its books, which some speculate would scare away more investors than an Oscar could buy.)

Of the studios in play both on Wall Street and the silver screen, USA Films, part of USA Networks, might be the only one to get a slight boost, with a victory for its “Traffic.”

Shares of big old Walt Disney probably wouldn’t catch fire from a win by Miramax longshot “Chocolat.” U, meanwhile, has been swallowed by French conglom Vivendi. And “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” hails from a small unit of a tiny piece of Sony Corp., making it unlikely to register on its Japanese parent’s stock chart.

History has proved a poor guide to Oscar’s market charm.

Fox had a nice run from 1997 winner “Titanic,” which it shared with Viacom’s Paramount, one analyst notes. But Disney didn’t need a best picture Oscar to pull in “three years of phenomenal earnings” and a belated stock boost from “Lion King.”

And remember the late Orion, which was on shaky financial ground when it won the best picture Oscar of 1990 for “Dances With Wolves”? Its fortunes didn’t improve. In fact, the studio had to file for Chapter 11 a few months before picking up the same award (plus four other statuettes) a year later for “Silence of the Lambs.”

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