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What the Paramount-Skydance Merger Means for Consumers

What the Paramount-Skydance Merger Means for Consumers

Skydance‘s deal to take control of Paramount Global will mean a change in leadership at the company, something the storied studio has dealt with a number of times in the past 60 years, and the inevitable restructuring and layoffs that almost always accompany corporate mergers.

But how will the deal affect the end users of Paramount’s products, the people who watch feature films like the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises and tune into NCIS, Yellowstone and The Daily Show on the company’s TV and streaming outlets? For the immediate future, not much — the deal isn’t expected to be finalized until early next year.

Farther down the line, though, some changes could be in the cards. Skydance (and future Paramount) CEO David Ellison and former NBCUniversal chairman Jeff Shell, who will be president of the combined company, are touting a “fresh approach” to the business rather than making wholesale changes (although layoffs and streamlining of operations are likely). Here’s a look at what the new Paramount will have to offer consumers.

Paramount Pictures: Younger, Hands-on Leadership

David Ellison and Tom Cruise at the London premiere of Top Gun: Maverick in 2022.

Ellison has always been a high-flier, literally and figuratively, and remains undeterred in his ambition to make big-budget spectacles — even when things don’t always go well. Flyboys, the very first film he made with help from his billionaire dad, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, cost $65 million but didn’t even earn $18 million at the box office in 2006. Not long after, Ellison had his first taste of fame when agreeing to finance a film many had passed on: the Coen brothers’ True Grit. The 2010 Oscar-nominated film became Ellison’s calling card, and he soon signed a co-financing slate deal with Paramount that gave him access to making big-budget movies from start to finish. He also helped rescue such films as World War Z (2013) by agreeing to co-finance.

From that perspective, the Skydance-Paramount merger is arguably a win for the consumer since it puts the mogul firmly in charge of a legacy Hollywood film and television studio that could have easily been swallowed up by another major, just as 21st Century Fox is now under Disney’s control. Equally important as his deep pockets is his age; at 41, Ellison is by far the youngest of his counterparts, and hence has a different perspective.

Insiders say Ellison intends to very involved when it comes to the creative process — just as he’s been at Skydance — and so has tapped Shell to deal with the business side. Shell is a controversial figure (he was fired in early 2023 following an investigation into an “inappropriate relationship” with a then-CNBC anchor) who is known for being a disrupter. While at NBCU, he accomplished the near-impossible when convincing theater owners to dramatically shorten the theatrical window from 72-90 days to around 31-32 days, and 17-18 days for smaller titles, so that movies could be made quickly available for digital rental on premium VOD for $19.99 or more.

“He will be very hands-on and wants to be on the lot,” says one source close to Paramount of Ellison. And all bets are on Skydance chief content officer Dana Goldberg remaining Ellison’s No. 2 creatively. (Skydance’s animation studio is run by former Pixar maestro John Lasseter, another controversial figure, and has a deal with Netflix).

CBS: The “Cornerstone”

Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders interviews with CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson in 2023.

In public comments to both Wall Street analysts and reporters Monday, Ellison and Shell stressed how important the broadcast network — George Cheeks, one of the current co-CEOs, runs CBS — is to Paramount as a whole. CBS owns a key portion of the NFL’s media rights and is a model of consistency even in the increasingly challenging linear TV world: It has led all networks in viewers for a record-setting 16 straight years. The network’s series are also consistently among the most watched titles on Paramount+. “CBS is a cornerstone asset for this transaction,” Shell told reporters. “We believe in the business, and the reach of CBS is very important to us.”

Shell also noted, however, that the new company will keep a close eye on cash flow at the network, “meaning making some harder decisions on time periods and, you know, and things like that.” He didn’t elaborate on that notion, but when Shell headed NBCUniversal, the company floated the idea of cutting the last hour of network primetime at NBC and returning it to local stations. Such a move, should it be resurrected at CBS, could potentially lop off about a third of the network’s weekly primetime schedule. Another way to interpret Shell’s statements could mean lower spending per hour of primetime, which could put the squeeze on some of the network’s longer-running (and therefore pricier) shows.

Paramount+: Searching for a Big Hit

Zoe Saldana in Paramount+’s Special Ops: Lioness.

Greg Lewis/Paramount+

In their remarks to analysts and reporters, Ellison, Shell and Gerry Cardinale — whose Redbird Capital Partners is backing Skydance in the deal — talked a lot about the potential for Paramount+ to become a technological leader among streaming platforms: upgrading its recommendation engine and ad-tech capabilities (as well as those of FAST service Pluto TV) and being at the forefront of Paramount “expand[ing] into a media and technology company,” as Ellison put it.

What they didn’t mention much was what’s actually on Paramount+, which is home to most of Yellowstone mastermind Taylor Sheridan’s output — and, crucially, will also be where any sequels to or continuations of Yellowstone itself land (the flagship series streams on Peacock, thanks to a deal made years ago). CBS shows and live sports streams bring healthy viewing to Paramount+, and series within the Sheridan and Star Trek franchises have performed fairly well, the service has yet to house a true breakout original show. That’s something the Skydance team — which produces hits like Reacher and Jack Ryan for Amazon’s Prime Video — would certainly like to change.

Cable: The Great Unknown

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Comedy Central

As the Skydance-Paramount transaction makes its way toward the finish line, Paramount Network will likely get a huge influx of viewers for the final, Kevin Costner-less episodes of Yellowstone. Comedy Central has seen The Daily Show audience grow with Jon Stewart’s part-time return to the anchor desk. But there’s precious little else in the way of original programming on either of those networks, and while MTV still offers up reality staples like The Challenge and Are You the One?, 10-hour marathons of Catfish: The TV Show and weekend-long blocks of Ridiculousness repeats are more the norm. The most robust slate of original series among Paramount’s cable channels is at BET, which the company is reportedly interested in selling.

See Also

The future of the cable properties — several of which recently had their web presences gutted — wasn’t a big part of the conversations Ellison, Shell and Cardinale had with analysts and reporters Monday. A presentation deck shown to investors suggests the new Paramount will “restructure and elevate” the brands of MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. The huge unanswered question, in a time when multichannel subscription numbers are on a years-long slide, is how.

The Franchises: AKA the Crown Jewels

Paramount’s crown jewel franchise: Star Trek.

After a wretched stretch, Paramount has rebounded in the post-pandemic era thanks in no smaller measure to the marquee franchises Skydance has been a part of. “This ensures these movies continue,” says one source of Ellison’s franchise ambitions. Below is a closer look at some of the titles in play.

Star Trek: A crown jewel of the Paramount empire, it’s a 60-year-old franchise with near universal name recognition. Yet the TV show-turned film series has never been a major box office draw. Skydance has been involved with Star Trek since Star Trek Into Darkness, the Chris Pine-led 2013 film that stands as the franchise’s highest grossing entry with $467.3 million. After follow-up Star Trek Beyond (2016) tapped out at a disappointing $385.6 million globally, Paramount and Skydance have tried and failed to articulate a big-screen future for Trek — announcing several Pine-led sequels that have yet to materialize and even hiring Quentin Tarantino to develop an R-rated Trek that went nowhere after the filmmaker bowed out.

Two Trek films are in development. One is prequel focusing on humanity’s early contact with aliens and the formation of the Federation. Andor director Toby Haynes is attached to direct a script by Seth Grahame-Smith that is rumored to take place largely on Earth. The studio sees the project as an entry point for new fans who do not need to know about decades of canon (or keep up with the myriad shows on Paramount+). No cast or release date is set, but it’s in pole position to be the next Trek to hit the big screen.

The other film would star Pine and his crew, including Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana, and while it’s said that the cast is game to come back, an announcement in 2016 ultimately went nowhere due to salary disputes, while a 2022 announcement caught its stars by surprise. That iteration eventually lost director Matt Shakman to Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Still, the studio has hired The Flight Attendant creator Steve Yockey to take the latest stab at a script billed as the final voyage for Pine’s crew. 

Top Gun: It took 36 years to release a sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, and Top Gun: Maverick ended up exceeding expectations, earning $1.493 billion amid pandemic challenges and sparking Steven Spielberg to privately tell star and producer Tom Cruise “you saved Hollywood’s ass.” A threequel is in development with Maverick co-writer Ehren Kruger, but Skydance deal or no, don’t expect this one to be taking off any time soon.

Mission: Impossible: Skydance’s financial backing has been integral to star Cruise’s — ahem — mission to keep pushing the boundaries of action filmmaking. Cruise will be filming the eighth installment throughout the summer as it sprints toward a May 23, 2025, release date.  The franchise has always been pricey, but under writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, it has become Hollywood’s premier action series. The previous installment, Dead Reckoning Part 1, earned $567.5 million globally, a soft number considering it cost nearly $300 million to produce, but insiders blamed its opening one week before Barbie and Oppenheimer became box office behemoths.

Still, hopes remain high for Mission 8 (no longer titled Dead Reckoning Part 2). McQuarrie has stated will feature an aerial sequence to rival a signature piece in Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018), while he and Cruise have also cooked up a key underwater sequence as well, utilizing a massive tank. The seventh and eighth Mission movies were announced back in 2019, and while it was assumed they would serve as a swan song for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, he has since stated he’d like to play the character for another 20 years. Will Ellison accept that mission?

Also: Skydance controls the rights to the Terminator franchise but hasn’t put out a movie since Terminator: Dark Fate bombed in 2019 (instead, it’s got a Netflix anime due out later this year). It also has a hand in Hasbro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe at Paramount. Following a post-credits scene in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Paramount and Skydance are developing a crossover movie, with Chris Hemsworth starring and Jurassic World scribe Derek Connolly penning the script.

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