‘Twas nearly the holiday season, and all through Hollywood, many creatures are stirring — especially media and entertainment investment bankers who can’t sleep, as visions of year-end big ticket M&A dance in their heads. Specifically, will they (Disney) or won’t they sell? Bob Iger’s recent pronouncements that he will double theme park spending to about $60 billion in the next 10 years certainly runs counter to any notion that Apple would buy out the entire Magic Kingdom. But is it all just one giant head fake? Cunning CEOs frequently set the stage for a major fork in the road to tease out potential buyers to make their moves now, before those moves become much more expensive later on. Bob Iger certainly is that (cunning).
And how about Fox and News Corp now that Rupert Murdoch stepped down? That media company with the hilariously ironic name (why quibble with “news” when you can simply give your audience “alternative facts”?) seems ripe for the picking. Elon Musk anyone? It’s the right constituency for the far out galaxy to which Musk has rocketed these days — and a natural one-two gut punch with X/Twitter, if you think about it. New putative CEO Linda Yaccarino would most certainly approve of that move, based on her performance at the recent annual Code Conference.
These and other issues will be discussed and hotly debated Wednesday at TheWrap’s highly anticipated annual “TheGrill” event in West Hollywood, which draws movers and shakers from all sectors of media, entertainment and tech (you can still register here). Yes, it’s that time of year again, and for the second year in a row, I’ll be moderating the conference’s M&A panel. This year’s great lineup features top M&A savvy executives and entrepreneurs Stephanie Horbaczweski (who previously sold her media company StyleHaul to RTL for over $100 million and now runs entertainment analytics company Vody) and Olivier Chastan (CEO of music IP M&A and branding firm Iconoclast), private equity’s Jason Sklar of Shamrock and leading media and tech investment bankers Ed King of BTIG, Charles Johnson of Truist and Ethan Sawyer of Guggenheim.
Importantly, my expert panel will discuss the overall M&A environment and whether dealmaking will heat up now that the writers’ strike is over, even as the SAG strike continues — not to mention seemingly endlessly rising interest rates and the most active antitrust regulatory environment in memory.
The backdrop to all of this is streaming, of course, which has changed the game completely in the world of entertainment. On the film and television side, the new Hollywood moguls are the CEOs of tech-first, trillion-dollar-plus valued behemoths with Silicon Valley DNA. That means Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Sundar Pichai of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Meta (OK, Meta falls below the $1 trillion mark) — all four of whom have now been sued by the Feds for antitrust. Where does leading streaming fish Netflix fit in? I have long predicted that it will be swallowed up by a much bigger fish (most likely one of those other juggernauts), and will explain my reasons why.
Meanwhile, on the music side, Daniel Eck of Spotify rules the streaming roost, yet still can’t find a path to profitability, which makes him ripe for the picking. And through it all, and precisely because of the impact of streaming, musicians large and small continue to find buyers who value their songs richly. That’s the power of IP ownership. So who will be broken up? And who will make up and marry? THAT is the question.
Of course, it’s not just about film, television and music. All aspects of the increasingly tech-driven media and entertainment world — across all global territories — are on the table for enterprising entrepreneurs, and Wednesday’s savvy panelists will discuss other sectors where they anticipate active dealmaking. Certainly, artificial intelligence — that’s AI for you and me — will be (and should be) a hot topic on which to build your chops. Microsoft has invested over $10 billion in OpenAI (the company that opened the floodgates to a largely unsuspecting public with ChatGPT), and Amazon just invested $4 billion in rival Anthropic. It’s natural to think that both gorillas ultimately may seek to become controlling buyers. Meanwhile, Google just Bards along, with its newly expanded AI offerings going off on their own little hallucinogenic tangents, giving new meaning to the slightly modified phrase “buyer bewAIre.” Will Google and others buy their own AI startups in their rabid and unbridled quest for AI dominance?
So come join me Wednesday to connect, break bread and get the insider’s scoop on all of the headline speculation, as well as M&A expertise, insights and tips that you will not find anywhere else. I’ll even ask everyone on the panel to give a personal “under the radar” M&A prediction. All of this will be presaged by a lunch in which I host an informal M&A table discussion open to all attendees, at which you can ask whatever questions you have on your mind, including whether there is more to it than money when buyers and sellers are at the table.