Warriors Co-Owner Peter Guber Talks Hollywood vs. Sports, Says Obama "Didn't Understand" Sony Hack

Tommy Garcia
Peter Guber

The Mandalay Entertainment CEO and former Sony Pictures chief on interest in an NFL team, the future of virtual reality and how Michael Lynton handled the hack.

This story first appeared in the July 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Late in the afternoon June 19, Peter Guber bounced into his Mandalay Entertainment office on Wilshire Boulevard with a big smile and his voice hoarse from yelling. The former Sony studio chief and longtime film producer has reinvented himself as a sports owner and investor, and less than two hours earlier he had the "surreal" experience of being on the Golden State Warriors victory bus with star Stephen Curry as it was cheered in Oakland by about 1 million fans celebrating the team's first NBA title since 1975. In the five years since Guber, partner Joe Lacob and other investors paid $450 million for the Warriors, they have turned the team from perennial losers into a model franchise with great attendance (seventh in the league this season) and plans for a privately financed arena on the waterfront in San Francisco. Guber also is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers (an affiliate of Hollywood Reporter parent Guggenheim Partners owns the majority) and, through the 40-employee Mandalay, the owner of minor league baseball teams, a motion picture division (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Soul Surfer), a TV unit (Brotherhood) and co-owner (with Guggenheim) of Dick Clark Productions, which produces awards shows including the Golden Globes and Billboard Music Awards. Before founding Mandalay in 1995, the married father of four was chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment from 1989 -- when the Japanese company acquired the studio -- to 1995. Guber, 73, talked with THR about the team's magical season, the future of TV sports (hint: virtual reality) and how President Obama let down Sony after the hack.

How does winning the NBA championship compare to one of your films winning an Oscar?

In the Oscar race, the vote is over. It's like watching Rocky on TV. It doesn't matter who you cheer for, the finish is preordained. What's interesting about sports is that the audience is a participant. Nobody feels they make a difference in the outcome in Rocky unless they're insane.

Former Dodger owner Frank McCourt scribbled a deal point on a napkin during Guber’s 2011 negotiations to buy the team.

You also had some luck this year with very few injuries to your key players.

I was involved early in my career in a movie destined to be a gigantic hit. It had Mike Nichols directing and Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty in it. But we had to take another movie that we didn't want, about a hairdresser with Beatty. That movie [Shampoo] was a total smash, and the other one was called The Fortune. It did not make a fortune. Certainty and uncertainty ride together.

How do sports people and Hollywood people compare?

First of all, the audiences for movies and television are all pas­sengers. The fans in sports own the team. The people that run the teams also are radically different. The movie business is 14 weeks [at a time]. Everyone says they bond, but they never see one another again. Ever. I've made so many movies, and I've maybe bumped into one of the [people involved] in a restaurant. It's very gypsylike.

A souvenir from a trip in a deepwater bathysphere in the Galapagos Islands.

Is the dramatic increase in TV rights fees for sports over the past decade sustainable?

In the television business, what gets the biggest ratings? Sports, because it's live. NBA ratings for this series were gigantically big [averaging about 20 million per game]. The second thing is this isn't the end of media opportunities. I'm involved with a ton of technology, but one I'm very involved with is NextVR, the whole revolution of virtual reality.

In 10 years, will I be watching virtual reality sports and movies?

Much sooner you will be watching everything you would have had to go into the stadium to watch.

This 2006 Miami Heat NBA champion- ship ring was an inspirational gift from pal Pat Riley.

Time Warner Cable's standoff with other TV providers over the Dodgers channel has been seen as a sign that the $8.3 billion it promised the team was too high. Is that a warning to other owners?

It's always a question whether a buyer feels they need that asset, whatever it is, to keep their audience, keep the advertisers and sponsors, keep the subscriptions. Do I think there's always pushback? Yeah. Truth is, the Dodgers are in first place and have almost 4 million [in attendance] at the stadium.

Will we see an end to the bundling of cable channels?

Viewer choice and viewer control is the ultimate element of the digital revolution. But that doesn't mean that the value proposition won't be there.

Would you want to be involved in an NFL team in Los Angeles?

No, I own the MLS Los Angeles Football Club [coming in 2017]. I'm excited because there's a lot of global relationships that can grow out of that. When you look at American football, it's a very expensive sport. The stadiums are very, very expensive. You operate them nine days a year.

The half-Brooklyn, half-Los Angeles jersey is signed by several players, including Sandy Koufax.

Switching gears to the movie business, do you think the Japanese owners of Sony Pictures are going to stick around?

The idea of looking at Sony as a Japanese company is not fair. It's every bit an American company. It has Japanese constraints, and we know that now. [The corporate officers in Japan] probably look at [SPE] as "Oo-gan," I think is the word, other. The reality is, it's so far away from them that they're not worried about if it's flattering to them. [The hack was a big deal] because Sony looked like a technology company. If they hacked Paramount, it would be like your Uncle Morty had been hacked. [CEO] Michael [Lynton] has done a reasonably good job in righting the ship, he's done a good job of managing the Japanese card. He's done a good job of getting good people to stay and grow [the company].

Would you have responded to the hack differently?

No. When you're in the middle of a fire, you just have to try to save your life. The challenge was not the hacking but some of the mess that came from people in the company because we know the political-correctness in the world is just what we're living in. [Lynton] wasn't dealt the best hand by President Obama, who didn't understand the situation or wasn't briefed on it as thoroughly as he should have been. The idea that he would say, just release [The Interview] or just not release it, he didn't understand that the exhibitors controlled the marketplace. [Lynton] had a double challenge. He had a person who had authority but didn't have all the information about how the system worked.

What was the most surprising thing that came out of the hack for you?

Never say anything but no or yes in email. "Keep this confidential" is like saying, "Tell everybody."

Would you make a movie about North Korea or Iraq in light of the Sony hacking? Is it having a chilling effect?

It would go through anybody's mind coming to a studio with a film trying to show an assassination of Putin or of an ayatollah. Fear is a powerful engine in decision-making. More decisions are run by fear than by promise.

A gift from Pele is one of many soccer mementos.

You were a producer on Batman in 1989, and now the movie business depends on superheroes. Is this a sustainable model?

There's a new audience every five years, it's a franchise model, you can rest it and bring it back, it travels the world successfully because local countries can't make them. The films I loved making, whether it was Rain Man or Gorillas in the Mist or The Color Purple, they would be now 10-parters and 20-parters for HBO or Showtime.

Are you surprised that TV has overtaken movies as a creative outlet?

If you told me in the '80s that would happen, I would have laughed at you.

You graduated law school in 1968 and went to work for Columbia. If you were graduating now, where would you work? Netflix?

Tech. Whether it's hardware, software, programming, I find it completely fascinating.