7 Days of Deals
Ka-ching! Who’s inking on the dotted line this week.
DEAL OF THE WEEK: Is Huffington Post Worth $315 Million? AOL’S $315 million acquisition oF the Huffington Post isn’t quite on the scale of a merger with Yahoo, as many had speculated was in the cards, but the Feb. 7 deal is the biggest move chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong has made since taking over in 2009. Wall Street, however, is split on the wisdom of the deal, which happened after only weeks of talks and was signed while Armstrong and Arianna Huffington — who co-founded HuffPo with Ken Lerer — attended the Super Bowl together. AOL’s stock was down as much as 4 percent early Feb. 8, the day after, before recovering slightly, and some observers believe the deal could be Armstrong’s version — albeit on a much smaller scale — of the much-maligned 2000 AOL-Time Warner merger. Skeptics also cite other failed AOL acquisitions including the $850 million buy of social network Bebo, which was sold for less than $10 million last year. “This is not a take-over-Yahoo Hail Mary pass,” Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce says of the HuffPo deal, “but judging by the stock’s reaction, it is possibly some people’s definition of a Hail Mary.” The price is about 10 times HuffPo’s expected 2012 operating income before depreciation and amortization, assuming the company hits financial marks that management predicts. Indeed, former NBC Universal topper Jeff Zucker tried to buy HuffPo but balked at the price. “Still, HuffPo should grow 200 percent from 2011 to 2012, while those conglomerates are growing perhaps 10 to 12 percent,” Joyce says in defense of the price tag. Key decisions have yet to be made, but Huffington and Lerer will get big payouts, and she will assume control of a broad swath of AOL digital media properties; specific consolidation and layoffs plans have not been determined. Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin is more bullish than many and has a “buy” rating on AOL. “What this gives Tim is critical mass in premium branded content with 117 million uniques,” she says. “You can get a lot of money from branded advertisers if you have a safe environment that is only premium content.” Plus, Armstrong is buying the big media brand and voice that AOL has lacked. “I think they will really get along great,” Martin says. “She is going to run his content arm, and he is going to do the ad sales side.” — Georg Szalai
Tribeca West nets $58M
Tribeca West, the West Los Angeles film and television postproduction haven, sold Feb. 4 to real estate investment firm Ocean West Capital Partners for $58 million. The 12233 W. Olympic Blvd. property, sold by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Broadreach Capital Partners, is home to Disney, HBO and NBC Studios, among others. Tenants fall into two camps: Some are production companies with short-term needs for space — eight to 24 months — and others rent offices on a long-term basis. The largest tenant at the 151,029-square-foot complex is Vin Di Bona Prods., which produces America’s Funniest Home Videos. The sale breaks down to $384 a square foot, which sources said is 5 to 10 percent more than the property would have fetched a year ago, signaling a possible recovery in the commercial real estate market. Bob Safai of Madison Partners represented the seller; the Santa Monica-based buyer represented itself in the transaction. — Daniel Miller
Ben Affleck (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) is in early negotiations to direct Argo, an adaptation of a Wired article centering on the Iran hostage crisis. George Clooney and Grant Heslov are producing the political thriller, which is said to contain elements of wry humor. Chris Terrio’s script centers on how, during the 1979-81 occupation of the U.S. embassy, a CIA rescue team freed six U.S. diplomats by pretending to be a movie crew.
DreamWorks is putting together a project that would star Jason Segel (WME, Abrams Entertainment, Sloane Offer) as a 1980s-era undercover cop. Steven Zaillian’s Film Rites banner brought the idea to the studio, where the company has a first-look production deal, and Zaillian will be an executive producer. Jason Micallef will write.
Sylvester Stallone (WME, Bloom Hergott) will star as a New Orleans hitman in Headshot, an action pic from IM Global and Alexandra Milchan’s EMJAG Prods. that is being shopped at the European Film Market in Berlin. Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) will direct from a script by Alessandro Camon (The Messenger).
James Franco (CAA, James Levy Management, Loeb & Loeb) is in early talks with Disney to play the title role in Oz, the Great and Powerful, the Sam Raimi-directed, Joe Roth-produced prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were courted for the role but passed.
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) is in final negotiations to join the cast of Marvel Studios’ The Avengers for director Joss Whedon. Smulders (UTA, Roar) will play a sidekick to Samuel L. Jackson’s character. She beat out V star Morena Baccarin, Jessica Lucas and Mary Elizabeth Winstead for the role.
Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt (Verve, McKuin Frankel) will polish the script for Disney’s Snow and the Seven, working from a strong draft by Jayson Rothwell. Production designer John Myhre, an Oscar winner for his work on Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago, has been brought aboard to begin creating the world of the fairy tale, which is set in 19th century China.
Kristen Stewart (Gersh, McKuin Frankel) is in negotiations to star in Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal’s take on the fairy tale. She would join Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron for director Rupert Sanders.
Paramount’s low-budget arm Paramount Insurge has acquired indie thriller The Devil Inside. Writer-director William Brent Bell (CAA, Generate) and producers Morris Paulson and Matthew Peterman made the supernatural pic a year ago, shooting under the radar in Rome and Bucharest, Romania.
IFC Films has acquired North American rights to Dermot Mulroney’s (ICM, Jackoway Tyerman) directorial debut Love, Wedding, Marriage. Kellan Lutz, Mandy Moore, James Brolin, Jane Seymour and Jessica Szohr star in the romantic comedy written by Anouska Chydzik Bryson and Caprice Crane.
HBO Documentary Films has acquired worldwide rights to the Jerry Weintraub doc His Way. The film, written and directed by Douglas McGrath (CAA, George Sheanshang), centers on the producer/manager’s five-decade career. It debuts this year on HBO.
Tribeca Film and Miramax have partnered to release the drama Last Night, directed by Massy Tadjedin (CAA). Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes star.
Warner Bros. has acquired movie rights to the Fletch mystery novels by Gregory Mcdonald that were made into two films starring Chevy Chase. Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Michael Sugar will produce with David List, manager of Mcdonald’s estate. No writer or director is on board.
NCIS star Mark Harmon has signed a two-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $500,000 an episode to continue with the show. Harmon (Paradigm, Barry Axelrod) is getting a bump of about $125,000 an episode of TV’s most-watched drama, which was renewed for a ninth season. The move puts him on par with what William Petersen was making on CSI. Harmon also will be elevated from producer to executive producer next season.
Carson Daly (Dixon Talent Agency, Jackoway Tyerman) has signed to host NBC’s singing competition series The Voice, which is set to premiere in the spring. Modeled after the Netherlands’ top-rated The Voice of Holland, the U.S. version is being produced by Mark Burnett.
Elijah Wood (WME, Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Stone Meyer), Donald Sutherland (CAA) and Eddie Izzard (UTA, the Collective, Morris Yorn) have been cast in Syfy’s Treasure Island. The two-part telepic, shooting in Puerto Rico and Ireland, premieres in early 2012.
Richard Reid (Kritzer Levine Wilkins Griffin) will play Prince William’s close friend in the Lifetime movie William and Kate. He joins Nico Evers-Swindell and Camilla Luddington as the title couple. Ben Cross will play Prince Charles.
Christie Brinkley (Ford Models) will play Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway for 11 weeks, beginning April 4 at the Ambassador Theatre.
Lucas Neff, star of Fox’s freshman comedy Raising Hope, has signed with CAA. … 16-year-old Gabriel Basso, who co-stars in J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Super 8, has signed with ICM. … Joelle Carter, who co-stars on FX’s Justified, has signed with Innovative Artists. … Writer-director John Michael McDonagh, whose debut feature The Guard was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance, has signed with UTA. … Writer-director Mike Cahill, whose feature Another Earth went to Fox Searchlight at Sundance, has signed with WME. … Saturday Night Live writers Shelly Gossman and Tom Flanigan have signed with CAA.
Correction I Melt With You director Mark Pellington’s name was misspelled in a photo caption in last week’s 7 Days of Deals column.