Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jeffrey K.'s Future

Mr. Katzenberg departed DreamWorks Animation just shy of a month ago. Why did he agree to exit after 22 years? Could it be the price was right?

... The day after selling his company to Comcast for $3.8 billion, Jeffrey Katzenberg is doing what he’s always done — presiding over back-to-back breakfast meetings. ... It’s clear Katzenberg isn’t planning on spending the rest of his life bobbing around on a yacht in the Bahamas. In fact, he’s champing at the bit to start his next chapter: running his own investment firm. Over a bowl of seeded pecan granola and a Diet Coke, he is simultaneously taking calls on his cell phone and answering questions. ...

Sources close to Katzenberg say he’s intrigued by the model his longtime mentor, Barry Diller, has built. IAC, Diller’s conglomerate, owns everything from dating services like and Tinder to video sites like College Humor and Vimeo. How Katzenberg will put his own spin on that model remains to be seen.

What’s absolutely clear is that he has zero plans of retiring. Ever. “No, not possible,” he says incredulously when asked. “My work is my happiness.” ...

To J.K's credit, a decade ago he saw that smaller, stand-alone companies were spiraling down to extinction. He was interested in selling DWA not long after Pixar was snapped up by Diz Co. but the financial meltdown in 2009-2009 put an end to the possibility of a Pixar-sized sale.

Years passed and the economy recovered, even as DreamWorks Animation hit a rough patch with a string of animated features that failed to turn a profit. (It's tough to survive on a business model that dictates creating nothing but theatrical blockbusters. The odds are high that this particular biz model will, sooner or later, fail).

To the company's credit, it reacted to its movie under-performers by diversifying in multiple directions, by getting into television, amusement parks, and merchandise, and building a Chinese partnership. All of these strategies were steps in the right directions, but DreamWorks Animation was, at the end of the diversification, still a smallish company.

And DreamWorks was likely to remain smallish. Given all that, Katzenberg's decision to cash in with a sale makes perfect sense. Better to take a bundle of cash and strike out in new directions than plow the same old fields in the hopes gold will sprout under your feet.

Here's hoping Comcast-Universal does right by its new acquisition.


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