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Universal’s Donna Langley on Paramount Sale and “Inevitable” Consolidation

Universal’s Donna Langley on Paramount Sale and “Inevitable” Consolidation

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Universal chairman Donna Langley oversaw a record year for the studio last year, finishing No. 1 at the box office and closing out awards season with seven Oscars including best picture for Christopher Nolan’s billion dollar grosser Oppenheimer. Even with that level of success, Langley prefers to have “healthy competitors” around her in Hollywood because it’s “just better for the business.”

Which is why she says it’s “sad” to see the state of the industry right now with a potential sale of Paramount Pictures looming and continued challenges facing the theatrical marketplace. “Consolidation is inevitable,” Langley told Variety co-editor in chief Ramin Setoodeh on Saturday afternoon in Cannes during a special Women in Motion conversation presented by Kering. The luxury group is honoring Langley on Sunday evening at its Women in Motion Awards for her recent run. “I’m not suggesting it’s Paramount but there’ll just be further consolidation. I think it’s sad. These companies have been great and I am a big believer in this competitive landscape of all boats will rise. There’s enough to go around.”

Regarding Paramount specifically, Langley said she hopes there is a resolution by end of year “because it’s enough already reading about this one, that one. No one really knows anything until it’s done.”

Setoodeh kicked off the conversation by asking Langley to share her take on where the movie business sits now. “What we’re experiencing across the whole media landscape really are the trends that were really put in motion before the pandemic, but were accelerated by that,” she explained. “We’re seeing a shift in consumer behavior, which is driving a lot of rethinking and reshaping of our business.”

That shift has led to a decline in the global marketplace by “about 20 percent,” she noted. “We don’t really think we’re going to recapture that. I think as an industry we can withstand it, but the strikes last year impacted us again, and there’s just less volume going through the marketplace at the moment. I know how I am as an audience member, if there’s not too many things to go see, you kind of lose the habit. You lose the will to get yourself up off your couch and go to a movie. And there’s so many good options, of course, at home with streaming. So we need volume to come back. We need more movies, and great movies, in the marketplace.”

The conversation covered the phenomenon that became Oppenheimer, hits like The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Cocaine Bear, her ascent at Universal to becoming the most powerful female studio executive in history, and what advice she would give to young women entering the business.

Regarding Oppenheimer, Langley recalled buying the film in a “highly competitive” situation as the blockbuster auteur had recently departed his longtime home at Warner Bros. “Everybody wanted it. Of course, who wouldn’t want a Christopher Nolan film? Then when we got it, it was immediately deemed a disaster before it had come out,” she said because the “industry gossip” mill claimed they overpaid for a historical drama. “What Oppenheimer shows you is if you make it, they will come. … It just sort of goes to show you that there are no rules in cinema, which is why we love it.”

On a lighter note, Setoodeh asked Langley to name what she’s streaming, watching and reading, and even the studio chief admitted that she is “overwhelmed” by the options in the marketplace. “There’s so much out there, there’s so many platforms,” she said, adding that when she’s taking meetings people are always asking, “Have you seen this one?” or, “Have you seen that one?” But she has seen Netflix’s breakout phenom Baby Reindeer (“which is extraordinary”).

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However, Langley said when her kids are out and there’s a bit of downtime, she always turns to comfort shows like Abbott Elementary or Emily in Paris. “If I’m being very honest,” she said, “I am going to watch one of those two shows.” Or one more: “I’m a big I Love Lucy fan.”

See the full conversation below.

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