Newsmakers of the year 2006


A year of splits, partnerships for Viacom

There wasn't a dull moment within Sumner Redstone's media fiefs in 2006. Viacom and CBS Corp. began the year by going their separate ways under a corporate spinoff plan that elevated Viacom's Tom Freston and CBS' Leslie Moonves to CEOs of their respective domains under the watchful eye of Redstone as chairman and controlling shareholder of both companies. Viacom's Paramount Pictures began an eventful year with the task of integrating its newly acquired DreamWorks live-action film unit into its operations. Not to be outdone, CBS Corp. rocked the TV world with a stealth announcement Jan. 24 of a deal with Time Warner fused CBS' UPN and WB Network into a new entity, the CW network. Redstone made headlines in August when he dumped Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner's Cruise/Wagner Prods. from the Paramount roster after 14 years. Redstone struck again the next month, ousting his longtime lieutenant Freston. Cruise and Wagner made their own comeback headlines in November with a deal to revive the United Artists label, with Wagner as CEO.

Snider ambles to D'Works; Uni doubles up

Stacey Snider had a high-class problem at the start of this year. Universal wanted her to renew her contract to continue as chairman of Universal Pictures, but Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg also were wooing her to move across town to run the new DreamWorks operation at Paramount. When all was said and done, the lure of working shoulder to shoulder with Spielberg was too irresistible for Snider, who became DreamWorks co-chairman alongside Geffen in February. To fill Snider's shoes, Universal turned inward and named a two-headed team of Marc Shmuger, former vice chairman and head of marketing, as chairman, and David Linde, former co-president of Uni's Focus Features unit, as co-chairman.

Dis, Pixar in buy story

After years of on-again, off-again courting, the Walt Disney Co. and Pixar Animation Studios took the plunge in January when Disney CEO Robert Iger struck a $7.4 billion acquisition deal that brought Pixar and Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs formally into the Disney fold as a board member and the company's largest individual shareholder. The other big change on the Disney lot this year came in July, just as the film division was riding high on the summer blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," when the company announced its plan to scale back its feature slate to 12-13 titles a year, slash 650 jobs worldwide and shift executive gears with former marketing chief Oren Aviv succeeding Nina Jacobson as head of live-action film production.

Agents of change: ICM picks up Broder Webb

ICM and Paradigm? WMA and UTA? CAA and Broder? Endeavor and UTA? After endless rumors and speculation about possible talent agency combinations, ICM and Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann gave the town something tangible to talk about in July when ICM agreed to acquire BWCS for an estimated $70 million. The deal gave ICM a big infusion of new talent and new clients, particularly those in the lucrative TV writer-producer category, and heralded the ascent of BWCS partner Chris Silbermann, now co-president of ICM, into the top echelon of agency movers and shakers. The fallout within ICM's walls included the departure of former co-president Nancy Josephson, who moved a few blocks down Wilshire Boulevard to become a partner at Endeavor.

Google catches viral as News Corp. networks

Google reminded the entertainment industry what kind of power a company with a $350-plus stock price wields when it cut a deal in August with Fox Interactive Media that was eye-opening for Hollywood. Google agreed to pay FIM a minimum guarantee of $900 million in exchange for becoming the exclusive search and keyword-based text advertising function for the social network behemoth MySpace and other FIM Web properties for three years. Two months after hooking up with MySpace, Google pounced on the other it-kid on the new-media stage, Internet video darling YouTube, with a $1.65 billion acquisition of the site that barely had been operating for a year. After the YouTube deal, Google's stock shot up past $450.

From concept to competition for high def DVD

After many false starts, the next generation of DVD software launched in 2006 with HD-DVD in April and Blu-ray Disc in June. Two studios ? Warner and Paramount ? support both incompatible formats, while Sony, Disney, Fox, Lionsgate and MGM support only Blu-ray and Universal only HD-DVD. In terms of hardware, HD-DVD has been supported by two Toshiba models, including an entry-level model retailing for $499. Until year's end, Blu-ray was represented by a $999 Samsung model ? in December, the format got additional players by Panasonic, Philips and Sony. Software for each category is fast approaching 200 titles, with many major theatrical films being released in high-def day-and-date with standard DVD discs. Given the dearth of hardware, the format's sales have been weak, but analysts point to a growing market in 2007 once player prices drop.