As Paramount Steers Into Unknown, David Ellison Woos A-Listers to Boost Flagging Bid

Whatever fate befalls Paramount Global after the smoke clears, one of the Hollywood Trivial Pursuit questions someday will be which heavy hitters have issued statements of support for Skydance’s proposed acquisition of Paramount’s holding company, National Amusements Inc. — and which didn’t.

Even as the Paramount special committee passed on the offer from David Ellison’s company May 4, sources say the Skydance-RedBird alliance has not given up. The premise, a source with knowledge of the situation tells The Hollywood Reporter, is that the rival Apollo/Sony Pictures offer now up for Paramount’s consideration will fail for multiple reasons, with Skydance still waiting in the wings.

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So despite much Wall Street skepticism over a proposed deal that favors controlling shareholder Shari Redstone over other investors, “Skydance has been on an extremely aggressive PR campaign in the last month to convince everyone how legitimate they are,” says a prominent media mogul.

The company seems to have found success with Jim Cameron, who told the Financial Times on May 5 that he was a fan of the deal. Others — including Taylor Sheridan of the Yellowstone universe — have proved harder to get. You can bet that Tom Cruise’s support was also solicited given his deep and long relationship with Paramount, but he, too, has kept silent. A rep for Cruise declined comment; A rep for Sheridan denies the incident.

Also quoted in that FT piece was Endeavor and TKO’s Ari Emanuel, who said Ellison is “a natural acquirer” of the company. “David has a real movie business [with] big franchises,” he said. (Ellison is an investor in Paramount franchises including Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, Transformers and Top Gun but doesn’t own any of them.) “Everybody is in business with him — Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Paramount and Disney all have a good relationship with David.” Previously, on April 23, Emanuel told Reuters: “One of the things that people are underestimating … is [Ellison’s] sense of tech, compared to some of the other guys … maybe with his father’s help or just his upbringing. What they do with Paramount+ and all that other stuff I think will be refreshing.”

Neither the FT nor Reuters noted a detail that seems relevant: Emanuel represents Ellison. Given that Emanuel has multiple reasons to want the Skydance deal to make, his support doesn’t provide much of a fig leaf for Redstone if she were to circle back to it. (Also, remember, this is the same Ari who told a Bloomberg panel just months ago, in October 2023, that while he thought Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney would figure out the challenges of the moment, “I would not put my money on Paramount.”)

Though not many Hollywood players have spoken up in favor of Skydance, no one in town wants to lose another major studio — and another buyer of content — after Fox disappeared into Disney. And it’s assumed that if Apollo and Sony Pictures prevail with their rival $26 billion offer, Paramount will essentially vanish. That helps explain why CAA’s Bryan Lourd also went public, telling Reuters on April 23 that if Ellison could pull off the Paramount deal, he would be “an owner-operator that actually loves film and television and stories, and that is needed now more than ever.” Not quite an argument from a business point of view, but who doesn’t love love? (Lourd has declined further comment.)

Cameron is also feeling the love, telling the FT that he loves “the Ellison idea,” though there is scant information on what, exactly, Skydance would do with Paramount’s fading cable channels and money-hemorrhaging streamer. Another voice that entered the fray: Jeffrey Katzenberg, who on May 6 told the audience at the Axios BFD Talks: Los Angeles that a Skydance deal would be “a great win for Paramount and for people in the industry.” Whether that persuades Paramount investors — well, probably not.

The other messaging coming from the Ellison alliance is that the members of the three-man leadership team of CBS chief George Cheeks, Paramount Pictures’ Brian Robbins, and head of Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks Chris McCarthy — who are running Paramount as co-CEOs either temporarily or not — are already at each other’s throats. Sources close to that team deny that claim vehemently.

As for Emanuel’s May 5 comment that Ellison has great relationships with everyone in town, that seems to be an exaggeration. He has often irked Paramount’s film studio leadership over a variety of matters, including claiming credit for Paramount hits that Skydance helped finance.

Meanwhile, on May 4, Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett said at his company’s annual meeting that he had dumped his entire stake in Paramount. Buffett had started out with a $2.6 billion investment in May 2022, and then bought even more, making him the biggest shareholder in the company (with non-voting shares, as Redstone and NAI have voting control). “We sold it all, and we lost quite a bit of money,” Buffett said. Such a vote of no confidence could hardly have landed pleasantly with the remaining Paramount shareholders.

Making matters worse, Buffett — who has previously expressed skepticism about the streaming wars that have cost Paramount and other studios so much — added chilling words for everyone struggling to keep a legacy media business afloat. “I certainly looked harder about the whole question of what people do with their leisure time and what the governing principles are of running an entertainment business of any sort, whether it’s sports or movies or whatever it might be,” he said. “I think I’m smarter now than I was a couple years ago, but I also think I’m poorer because I acquired the knowledge in the manner I did.”

Alex Weprin contributed to this report. 

A version of this story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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