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Universal chief Ron Meyer will move up before moving out

August 07, 2012|By Ben Fritz
  • Universal Studios President Ron Meyer will take an advisory role at NBCUniversal before his current contract expires in 2015.
Universal Studios President Ron Meyer will take an advisory role at NBCUniversal… (Andrew Gombert / EPA )

Universal Studios President Ron Meyer will be headed upstairs to parent company NBCUniversal before his time in Hollywood is done.

The longtime head of the Universal movie studio and theme parks has a provision in his contract, signed in June 2011, stipulating that at some point in the next year or two he will move into an advisory role working with NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke, according to two knowledgeable people not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

While it's not clear when Meyer will make the switch, it's expected to happen well before his current contract term ends in 2015.

The move to an advisory role would probably provide a transition for the 67-year-old Meyer, a well known Hollywood figure who cofounded the Creative Artists Agency, before his retirement. It would also allow Universal Studios to prepare for the end of his long reign, which began in 1995.

It's not clear, several people close to the studio said, whether Meyer would be replaced or if the heads of the film and theme park businesses would begin reporting directly to Burke, essentially removing a layer of management. Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson began reporting to both Burke and Meyer as part of a contract extension last year. Previously, he reported only to Meyer.

Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams reports to Meyer.

The revelation comes amid recent reports in the New York Post and Hollywood Reporter that NBCUniversal has held talks about replacing Meyer with DreamWorks Studios chief Stacey Snider, who previously held Fogelson's job.

Executives at the studio said they have found the reports disruptive, though many believe it is unlikely that Snider would come over.

NBCUniversal executives have reached out to Snider to inquire about extracting her from her current contract running DreamWorks, people close to the independent studio confirmed.

However, NBCUniversal has not made an offer to Snider and currently has no intentions of hiring her, several people close to the situation said.

In any case, bringing on Snider would probably be complicated and costly. Her contract as DreamWorks CEO was extended as part of a March refinancing with the company's financial backer, Reliance Entertainment. The Indian conglomerate probably wouldn't want to lose its top executive, who is also an equity stakeholder in the company along with partner Steven Spielberg.

But given DreamWorks' weak financial performance since it began releasing films in early 2011, Reliance could be interested in an acquisition by Universral or a new distribution deal.

However, its current distribution partner, Walt Disney Studios, earns 8% of all revenue from DreamWorks movies. It would probably want to be compensated for the tens of millions of dollars it would lose if it were not to release DreamWorks movies for the next few years, including the Spielberg-directed "Lincoln" in November and an adaptation of the video game "Need for Speed" planned for 2014.

Snider may be interested in taking a job at a major studio such as Universal since DreamWorks' ambitions have been diminished. While it originally intended to make six movies per year after separating from former owner Paramount Pictures in 2008, the company is now set to make between three and five after the weak performance last year of such pictures as "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Fright Night." In addition, it must seek co-financiers for its larger budget pictures, such as next year's "Robopocalypse," to be directed by Spielberg, on which it is teaming with 20th Century Fox.

That leaves Snider with less authority and responsibility than the heads of most other Hollywood studios.

No immediate changes are expected at Meyer's level or with Fogelson and his cochairman, Donna Langley. After a strong first quarter during which the hits "Safe House" and "The Lorax" helped it swing to a $6-million operating profit (compared with a $146-million loss the prior year) Universal Pictures lost $83 million in the second quarter, due largely to the failure of "Battleship."

So far the studio is doing well in the third quarter, thanks to the surprise hit "Ted." Hopes are high on the Universal lot for this Friday's "The Bourne Legacy" and the release Tuesday of "The Lorax" on DVD.

ALSO:

'Battleship' ups game for studio

Despite 'Battleship' bomb, Comcast second quarter-profit rises

Ron Meyer's contract as Universal Studios president extended through 2015

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