Written by 10:58 Business

David Ellison Poised to Become a New Mogul in a Diminished Hollywood

In 1994, when Sumner M. Redstone bought Paramount Pictures for about $10 billion, the equivalent of about $22 billion today, he did more than just take over a company. He ascended a cultural throne.

Studios like Paramount — founded in the 1910s, operating soundstage complexes and controlling vast film libraries — were valuable businesses on the verge of hitting a mother lode: the DVD. Perhaps more important, however, they gave their owners a precious identity as certified members of the cultural elite.

Movies still towered above everything. Top ticket sellers in 1994 included touchstones like “The Lion King,” “Schindler’s List,” “Interview With the Vampire,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Philadelphia,” “Speed” and “Pulp Fiction.” In 1995, when “Forrest Gump” — a Paramount release — won the Oscar for best picture, more than 48 million Americans tuned in to watch.

Those days are over.

On Sunday, the Redstone family reluctantly relinquished Paramount, passing the studio to David Ellison, the tech scion behind a 14-year-old entertainment company called Skydance. If the complex deal closes, Mr. Ellison and his backers, which include RedBird Capital Partners, will spend roughly $8 billion on a collection of assets that include Paramount, CBS, two streaming services and a portfolio of cable networks, such as MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.

Considering the movie studio alone was worth $22 billion in 1994, it was not exactly a celebratory moment in Hollywood. Rather, it was another example of harsh reality intruding on a world that still likes to fantasize about recapturing its golden age. (Universal recently renovated its lot, adding a sign over one of its entrance gates that reads, “Welcome all who change the world.”)

Sure, Mr. Ellison, 41, now ranks as a bona fide Hollywood mogul. But what does that even mean in 2024? His ascendance bears no resemblance to the robber barons like Mr. Redstone who came before him, partly because there is precious little left to rob.

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Last modified: 10 July 2024
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