Will Steven Spielberg Drop the DreamWorks Name?

Steven Spielberg - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Steven Spielberg - H 2015

With a move from Disney imminent, Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios must decide by Jan. 1 if it will continue to license the name from Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Will two DreamWorks continue to exist? Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg soon must decide whether to extend a deal allowing Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios to use the name.

Under a little-known pact set to expire Jan. 1, DreamWorks Studios licenses the name and logo from Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation, which scored the trademark in 2004 when it was spun off from the studio founded by the duo and David Geffen. (The license cost a mere $100.)

Spielberg, whose DreamWorks is readying a move from Disney (likely to Universal) with new investor Participant Media, is said to want to keep the name, but there are complications. Confusion in the marketplace is an issue, and DWA's recent box-office misses have tarnished the brand a bit. "I had understood that the regular DreamWorks wanted to change the name because DWA kept getting hammered, but I don't know if it's worth the hassle," says B. Riley analyst Eric Wold.

In addition, as Spielberg's shop moves more into the family space, it could run up against part of the deal that forbids DreamWorks from making animated films for any company other than DWA. A live-action family film from DreamWorks currently cannot go out through Disney proper — only Touchstone, its label for adult fare. That's why Disney insists DreamWorks has nothing to do with The BFG, the Spielberg-directed family movie co-financed by Disney that is set to open July 1. Instead, the film will bear the logo of Amblin Entertainment, which preceded DreamWorks and could be an alternate name for the company.

But for Spielberg, giving up the DreamWorks name would be a tacit admission that the full-fledged studio he founded in 1994 with Katzenberg and David Geffen to great fanfare never lived up to its potential. The studio essentially disbanded in 2004 when Katzenberg spun off DWA into a separate company and DreamWorks SKG morphed into a production entity run by Spielberg (Stacey Snider served as CEO until last year, when she exited for Fox and was replaced by former Turner exec Michael Wright). Spielberg's DreamWorks Television division has been successful in that space, launching, among others, Fox's new Minority Report series. 

The license agreement allowing Spielberg to keep using the name DreamWorks took effect Jan. 1, 2009, when DreamWorks ended its distribution agreement with Paramount and turned to Disney for distribution and India's Reliance for financial backing. It was renewed again for one year in December 2014, just as DWA was under the gun on Wall Street after a series of box-office misses.

DreamWorks Animation's prospects are less rocky now. "It looks like DWA has righted itself. Kung Fu Panda 3 will be a huge hit," says Wold.

Neither DreamWorks nor DWA would comment on plans for the trademark, but one source close to both Spielberg and Katzenberg says it makes sense for the immediate future to keep two DreamWorks, even if they remain separate companies and, perhaps, increasing competitors: "It is the next best thing to having the real company."