NBCUniversal Execs Reassure DreamWorks Animation Staffers They Are Committed to More Animated Features

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Steve Burke

At a townhall meeting at DWA's Glendale campus, NBCU's Steve Burke said that between Illumination and DWA, Universal hopes to turn out four animated movies per year.

Once NBCUniversal’s acquisition of DreamWorks Animation is complete, Universal plans to continue making films at DWA’s Glendale campus, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke reassured DWA staffers Wednesday at a townhall meeting.

Comcast's NBCUniversal, which already is in the animation business through its Illumination Entertainment, makers of Despicable Me and Minions, agreed on April 28 to acquire DWA for $3.87 billion. As part of the acquisition, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, will give up his role running the studio and will instead be tasked with running DWA's digital studio Awesomeness TV.

Burke — along with Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer and Katzenberg — met with about 1,500 employees Wednesday morning at DWA’s Glendale campus. The CEO explained that it’s very hard for one company to turn out more than two animated movies per year, but that by setting up two animation operations in its Illumination Entertainment and DWA, Universal hopes to produce as many as four animated movies per year.

“If we could go from two animated films a year to four animated films a year by having two different parts of our company making those films, that would really advance our desire to be everything we could possibly be in the entertainment business,” he said.

Roberts underscored that point, saying, “We will absolutely continue to make animated films here.” Added Meyer, “We’re here because we believe in what you have.”

In introducing DWA’s new ownership team, Katzenberg admitted to mixed emotions, saying he was “sad/glad — I am sad that I am passing this on to others, but I’m glad for you. And I ask you to do the same for me. It’s sad, but I want you to be glad for me, because honestly I couldn’t be happier.”

In explaining his decision to sell the company, Katzenberg related how when he, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen joined together in 1994 to found DreamWorks SKG, he wanted to create more than just a new studio. As he recounted it, he wanted to create a brand — a notion that, in his retelling, Geffen claimed was “reaching for the stars.”

A decade later, in 2004, DreamWorks Animation was spun off as a publicly-held company, and, over the course of 22 years, Katzenberg said, “we succeeded in creating a brand. And I thought about that brand in the hands of this amazing company [NBCU] — with its reach and with its assets and with its leadership and its talent — and how it could fulfill the craziest of crazy dreams that I had 22 years ago."

He further explained that it became clear to him that NBCUniversal could do more with its resources to grow DWA over the next few years than he could do himself, and he felt he owed it to the employees who’d help him build the animation studio to make the deal because, under NBCUniversal, “your future is actually greater and filled with more opportunity.”

Katzenberg concluded by saying of the NBCUniversal team, “These are people that have come to build. I trust them — and so should you.”