DreamWorks Animation CFO Touts Chinese Joint Venture

Fazal Merchant

Fazal Merchant called Oriental DreamWorks "incredibly important" and said the studio is in "a blessed place" because of CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg's strong relationship with China.

DreamWorks Animation CFO Fazal Merchant on Wednesday raved about the beleaguered studio's opportunity in China, beginning with Kung Fu Panda 3, the first production from Oriental DreamWorks, its joint venture with several Chinese firms.

Merchant called Oriental DreamWorks "incredibly important" and said the studio is in "a blessed place" because of CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg's strong relationship with China, a country he said Katzenberg visited monthly for the past three years.

"His depth in understanding of that market is incredible," said Merchant, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

DreamWorks Animation, in fact, has "a lot of conviction" in global opportunities in general, not just in China, Merchant said. Hence, the company is launching a linear TV channel in 19 countries in Asia this year.

Television is also a growing business for DreamWorks Animation stateside, and Merchant said that Netflix is "incredibly pleased" with the content the studio has delivered in a deal that runs through 2017. "If there were issues, I don't think they'd be shy about telling us," he said.

It's too early, though, to predict a renewal of that deal, Merchant said, though he noted that some episodes of certain series will be delivered to Netflix under the existing arrangement through 2018 and some through 2019.

DreamWorks Animation has gone through a painful restructuring after four of its last six films led to write-downs: Penguins of Madagascar, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Turbo and Rise of the Guardians. Merchant on Wednesday reiterated the corporate line to explain those failures — saying the company was spread too thin and wasn't paying enough attention to its core mission of making successful family films.

He also blamed competition and release dates for the problems, but noted that DreamWorks Animation had "something like 17 hits in a row ... so something about the formula clearly worked."

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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