Executive Intrigue at Universal
Comcast explores bringing Snider and Spielberg on board as money obstacles and Ron Meyer's role complicate matters.
It's far from certain that Comcast is ready for a regime change at Universal Studios -- company sources say no action is imminent -- but many in the industry believe the cable giant is moving, however glacially, toward reshuffling duties at a unit that has remained mostly untouched since the purchase of NBCUniversal closed in January 2011.
Sources say Comcast has been exploring what would be a complicated move to bring in DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider to run the studio, with partner Steven Spielberg accompanying her. At the same time, speculation has heated up that Comcast might be considering offering a different, more advisory title to long-serving Universal president and COO Ron Meyer, whose contract runs through 2015.
What would Meyer's responsibilities be in such a scenario? Currently, he oversees Universal Pictures, studio operations and the theme parks. But since he re-upped in 2011, studio chief Adam Fogelson has been a direct report to NBCUni CEO Steve Burke as well as to Meyer. And while Meyer would want to keep the theme parks, it's possible that parks CEO Thomas Williams also would report to Burke.
In that case, parks would not be included in the portfolio of the studio chief going forward. That could be a sticking point if Comcast decided to pursue Snider since she already was chairman of Universal's film studio from 1999 through 2006 and might want more responsibilities. But she could forgo that request because Spielberg is known to favor a return to Universal -- where he maintains his offices -- and his desires generally come first. (Snider would have to give up any interest in DreamWorks.)
And DreamWorks has had a rough path. India's Reliance invested $325 million in 2009, and after several disappointing films, including Cowboys & Aliens, it agreed in April to renew financing for two to three years. But the level of investment never was disclosed, and layoffs followed. So a Comcast deal would relieve Snider of the pressure to seek money.
But Comcast would have to free Snider and Spielberg from Reliance and Disney, which distributes DreamWorks films and expects to share in Spielberg projects. No doubt Disney and Reliance will want to capitalize if an opportunity presents itself. That could be a formidable obstacle to a deal.