MGM Using James Bond Rights as Leverage for a Possible Sale

A sudden sacking of CEO Gary Barber comes as 007 is being used as bait for potential billion-dollar bidders.
Kevin Winter (Tsujihara), Jeff Kravitz (Ellison), both Getty Images
Annapurna's Megan Ellison and Warner Bros.' Kevin Tsujiara are both aiming for James Bond rights.

As the dust settles on MGM CEO Gary Barber's sudden March 19 ouster, eyes are turning to the studio's future, a possible sale and what happens to the James Bond franchise.

Many observers assumed that Megan Ellison's Annapurna had long ago locked up a domestic rights deal to the mega-franchise, but insiders say that is not the case. Neither domestic nor international rights (where Warners' Kevin Tsujihara is said to be the frontrunner) have been closed, leaving a question mark with only 19 months till the Nov. 8, 2019, release.

So why the delay? MGM is holding off because it is using the Bond rights as a carrot for whoever wants to buy the studio, a knowledgable source tells The Hollywood Reporter. After Barber's exit, MGM has been coy about whether or not it's for sale or if the company is finding a new CEO (the fact that there is no urgency in replacing Barber would signal that MGM is, in fact, in sale mode).

Instead, the company is being led by a management team of nine that includes newly installed chief operating officer Chris Brearton and TV and digital group president Mark Burnett. That has left nerves rattled at MGM, which called a town hall meeting on March 29 to allay concerns.

Insiders say Burnett was among the speakers who addressed staffers and gave a pep talk that invoked the teamwork on his long-running franchise Survivor, noting that everyone contributed to the success of the series including the people who cleaned the toilets on the current Ghost Island.

Sony is said to be interested in buying the studio and has the cash on hand to pounce. The MGM library generates about $300 million a year in revenue, and the Bond franchise is said to be worth between $1 billion and $3 billion. With a $1 billion valuation on MGM's most recent buy, the pay cabler Epix, the studio's price tag should exceed $6 billion, say sources familiar with the company's financials.

Says analyst Tuna Amobi, "You've got a company that arguably will find it a lot more challenging to exist over the long period as an independent entity, which means they could be a potentially attractive takeover play for a number of the other major studios."

One thing is for certain, with the Bond 25 release date looming and director Danny Boyle’s deal done, according to a source, MGM will have to make some kind of move soon. The studio declined comment on Boyle's deal as well as the status of its distribution pacts.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.