"The End of a Dream For Spielberg & Co.
Studio Never Fulfilled Founders' Vision
Tuesday, December 13, 2005; Page D03
Hollywood is littered with broken dreams -- even if your name is Steven Spielberg.
The fantastically successful film director and his partners, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen -- no Hollywood slouches themselves -- conceived DreamWorks SKG Inc. in 1994 with the goal of creating a media empire.The announcement Sunday that Paramount Pictures agreed to buy DreamWorks for $1.6 billion brought to a close the trio's original ambition to house a movie, television, music, animation, video game and Internet juggernaut under the one roof of an independent studio.
"They, like everyone else in Hollywood, mistakenly thought all these businesses were highly related and there would be all sorts of synergy -- and there was not," said Tom Adams, president and senior analyst at Adams Media Research, an entertainment industry research and consulting firm in Carmel, Calif.
For the past decade, the lofty aims of the DreamWorks team have been steadily pared back. The studio's Internet venture, Pop.com, never got off the ground; its music business was sold off; it jettisoned its video game operation; its TV productions met with limited success; and the animation side turned out some stellar hits and was spun off from DreamWorks into a separate public company.
DreamWorks has delivered some acclaimed movies -- such as Oscar winners "American Beauty," "Gladiator" and "Saving Private Ryan" -- but also disappointments, including "The Island," "The Legend of Bagger Vance" and "Just Like Heaven." For Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc., the deal puts DreamWorks' current projects in the studio's pipeline. Under new head Brad Grey, Paramount is seeking to emerge from a period of lackluster box-office performance and add some edginess to the nearly 100-year-old studio.
But the prize Paramount acquired comes in a far smaller package than what the DreamWorks creators had once envisioned. Despite loads of ambition, talent and hype, the principals could not overcome industry forces that worked against the formation of a new major studio operating across media. Other efforts to create Hollywood synergies in tangent industries have foundered.
Miramax Film Corp. and former New Yorker editor Tina Brown linked up in 1999 to exploit strengths across magazine and book publishing and the movie business, but the project was dissolved in 2002. Adams said that like DreamWorks, other studios have sought to create in-house enterprises in music and video games but also have stumbled.
"It seemed like a reasonable dream to take three hyper-talented guys and go into all those businesses at once because all the major studios were doing it," Adams said. "But movie studios don't have anything special that gets you a prominent position in games, television or music."
DreamWorks' small size also left it at a disadvantage against the behemoths in the industry in the attempt to aggregate a variety of media under one roof. Competition in the music and video game markets had intensified over the decade, curtailing opportunities for smaller players.
"When you're competing with such bigger companies and trying to fight so many battles, you're still a small fish in every large pond," said Marla Backer, media and entertainment analyst at Research Associates-Soleil Securities. "You can be successful maybe in one pond or two but not on all fronts."
As a filmmaker, DreamWorks produced fewer films each year than the major studios, placing greater importance on the success of each release. "For a company like DreamWorks, one big disappointment can have a big negative impact on performance," Backer said.
Small, however, does not describe the stature of three men who formed DreamWorks, nor the enthusiasm that surrounded the studio's launch. Spielberg has reigned over the world of film directing since his early blockbuster "Jaws," which was followed by other huge moneymakers such as the "Indiana Jones" trilogy and "Jurassic Park." Katzenberg was the force behind the Walt Disney Co.'s success with "The Lion King" and other animation. Geffen was a power in the music business, promoting the likes of the Eagles and Jackson Browne.
Few Hollywood debuts were greeted with as much fanfare as the launch of the trio's venture in 1994. The new studio was portrayed as heralding a tectonic shift in the way the industry operates. The perception was fed by the principals themselves, with Katzenberg telling reporters at the launch news conference, "I look at the three of us and think this has got to be the Dream Team."
Shortly after the announcement, the media had fun with the fact that the partners said they had planned parts of their new company during a state dinner they all attended honoring Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Time magazine quoted Spielberg as saying, "We're in tuxedos talking about a brand new studio, and just across from us there's Yeltsin and Bill Clinton talking about disarming the world of nuclear weapons." Then, pushing the metaphor about as far as it would go, Time's Richard Corliss added that the announcement by this most powerful troika "smote Hollywood with nuclear force."