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J.J. Abrams’ New Mega-Deal: WarnerMedia, Apple Lead the Race

Though no decision has been made, J.J. Abrams looks to be closing in on a destination for a new mega-deal for his production company Bad Robot, which could be valued at nearly half a billion dollars. Sources tell Variety that WarnerMedia is emerging as the frontrunner to land the filmmaker and TV mind behind “Alias” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” However, Apple is also said to be in strong contention for a deal that could be historic in scope.

Variety first reported last November that several major players were courting Abrams for a massive deal that would encompass films, television, digital content, music, games, consumer products, and theme-park opportunities. Besides WarnerMedia and Apple, Disney, Universal and Netflix were also in the mix, each making its pitch to Abrams on why its studio was best suited for him.

The competitors have deployed some of their highest level execs to pitch Abrams. Chief executive Bob Iger led Disney’s courtship of Abrams, leaning on a personal rapport developed during the production of two Star Wars films. WarnerMedia chief John Stankey has been the point man for the company’s efforts to hammer out a pact, and has leaned heavily on Bad Robot’s preexisting TV deal with Warner Bros. Television, as well as the company’s ability to offer a variety of landing spots for Abrams-backed content, from streaming platforms to theatrical events. And Comcast’s courtship has brought in everyone from Universal Filmed Entertainment Group to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. In recent weeks, insiders at Disney and Comcast have begun to sense that Abrams will be taking his talents elsewhere, despite the fact that both companies offer theme park opportunities that are unmatched.

Apple, meanwhile, has something else to potentially offer Abrams: Its upcoming streaming service, which could benefit from some added sizzle. A deal with Abrams would also help its digital efforts stand out from those of Disney, which is about to unveil Disney Plus, a content offering that will boast exclusive access to new Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm content.

The courtship has been so intense that one free-wheeling wining-and-dining session of spitballing and ego-stroking was likened by studio executives to “The Bachelor,” with jokes made between competitors about who among them received the rose.

Despite Abrams’ track record of producing water cooler shows such as “Lost” and hit movies such as “Super 8,” there are skeptics who note that he is better at rebooting franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars than he is at creating them out of whole cloth.

Suitors have yet to be told that Abrams has found a home, but they do expect a decision to be announced early this summer.

Abrams’ deal with Warner Bros. TV, which he originally signed in 2006, is up in 2019. A separate film-related pact with Paramount, also forged in 2006, expires in March of 2020.

Elaine Low contributed to this report.

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