Over at Deadline, you can read the very interesting and somewhat confusing story of Third Point hedge fund CEO Daniel Loeb and his recent attempt to convince Sony to spin off its entertainment division in the wake of After Earth and, sigh, White House Down bombing at the box office. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai wrote a letter to Loeb and Third Point (7% shareholders in Sony) politely explaining that they could let him do his own job, and George Clooney also jumped in by calling Loeb a “carpetbagger” and “the most dangerous man to our industry.”
Loeb backed off and affirmed his support for Hirai while also saying that he and Clooney are more alike than the actor may realize, and it ultimately just seems like a story of an investor who wants to see less money spent on crap movies pissing off the people who like to spend a lot of money on movies that sometimes turn into crap.
MARIA BARTIROMO: … You probably saw last week George Clooney was making some comments about the activist investor Dan Loeb saying, “Listen, stay out of the entertainment business. Don’t tell Sony to, you know, (LAUGH) spin off the entertainment division, because you know nothing about running the business.” How do you feel about that? Does that jive with what a moment ago you said, look, Steve Jobs was not putting the shareholder as the number one priority, it just followed suit?
ASHTON KUTCHER: Well, I think there’s a little bit of naivety on both sides. So, 1) the assumption that you can just walk into an artistic business and understand how that works or how the artistic process works, little bit of naivety on that side. On the other side, having been in the entertainment business for a long time, you know, some of these companies are extremely bloated. And they do spend money on relationships.
And some of the processes around the creative process aren’t understood. And you know, if you look at Steve Jobs is an example of that, right. There are times when your R&D and your drive and your spin towards innovation– come up with nothing. And then there are times when that is the very vitality of your company.
So I wouldn’t necessarily say that George Clooney or whoever is speaking on behalf of the studios is necessarily 100% right. And I wouldn’t al– at the same time wouldn’t say that Dan Loeb’s position is… Now, that being said, Dan Loeb is responsible to a company and is responsible to the efficiencies of the company.
You know, the entertainment business in a lot of ways is a loss leader, it’s a low margin business. And you know, if you’re looking at shareholder value in Sony a lot of the technology stuff that they’re doing is really leading the way and actually has you know, high value margins against it. But I don’t think that– I think we’ve become a slightly profit-obsessed society. And I do think that there’s a value in the art and the creative process as well.
Kutcher actually makes some good points – that a suit with money can’t just walk on to a set and pretend that he knows how or why movies are made, while some studios do tend to throw cash at actors that only they like and that’s why films bomb *cough, After Earth, cough* – but I’m not sure that he was entirely familiar with Clooney’s big picture that if investors get to boss the studios around, we’ll be left with only tent poles, remakes and reboots, instead of more daring artistic endeavors. And what would we do without true artistic classics like Dude, Where’s My Car? and What Happens in Vegas?