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Skydance CEO David Ellison On Strikes: Both Sides “Need One Another To Move Forward”

Skydance Media CEO David Ellison called the creative process a “community” where “both sides of this disagreement actually need one another to move forward. So, my hope is that we can find a path to compromise so that everybody can get back to work and we can position ourselves for success going forward.”

“We are not a member of the AMPTP, and some of my closest friends are the writers and actors that we work with to create content. And, we literally work with every member on the AMPTP side,” he said during a Q&A at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia media conference in San Francisco when asked about the strike – day 127 for the WGA and day 54 for SAG-AFTRA.

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The annual investor event is mostly limited to public companies. At privately-held Skydance, “We want to always make sure we position ourselves to be able to be a publicly-traded company,” Ellison said. Major investors include the Ellison family, RedBird Capital Partners, KKR, CJ Entertainment and Tencent. He said he expects more consolidation in media and entertainment and that Skydance is positioned to take advantage of “appropriate” opportunities — no specifics.

He touted what he called strong organic growth at the company founded in 2010 as it’s expanded from film and television into animation, with former Pixar chief John Lasseter leading the charge, sports content under a venture with the NFL, and gaming. Skydance has 1,200 staffers globally across five divisions, including 800 in animation, he said, and has been “consistently profitable.”

In July, the company closed a new five-year, $1 billion credit facility led by J.P. Morgan, doubling the amount of a prior credit arrangement led by the bank.

Formed with a deal at Paramount, Skydance continues its collaboration there with franchises Mission: Impossible, Transformers, Star Trek and Top Gun: Maverick. It’s worked with Netflix (The Old Guard, The Adam Project); Amazon (Jack Ryan, Jack Reacher) and has a multi-year agreement with Apple for a slate of live-action movies.

Apple TV+ was the home of the first animated film for both, Luck, last year, to be followed by Spellbound. Skydance Animation has acquired the rights to Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) next film Ray Gunn, and has an overall deal with Rich Moore (Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph). There’s a huge potential upside in animation where hits can “become a family heirloom that can be rewatched and re-watched,” Ellison said.

Interactive offerings include The Walking Dead Saints & Sinners and game deals with Marvel and Lucasfilms.

In 2022, Skydance launched a sports content joint venture with the NFL inaugurated by the Ben Affleck and Matt Damon film AIR in theaters and streaming on Amazon. Docuseries NFL Draft: The Pick Is In was just renewed for a second season on Roku. “I think sports is one of the true pieces of appointment television, and it has been underexploited and untapped for a long time,” Ellison said. “We saw a massive audience not being served.”

As the majors continue to pivot to steaming, “Some companies will emerge stronger than ever. Others will have a harder time,” he said. “We purposefully did not build distribution…We sit in the middle.”

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