On Dec. 10, Variety reported that ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC) (NASDAQ:VIAC.A) had restarted talks to take a potential equity stake in Miramax, the production company and distributor behind many widely regarded indie films from the 1990s such as Pulp Fiction, Clerks!, Shakespeare in Love, The Crying Game and about 700 other titles. Miramax had originally been founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 1979, but was sold to Disney in 1993. Disney then sold Miramax to a consortium of media companies in 2010. Today, Miramax is owned by BeIN Media Group, a Qatar-based international TV network for sports and entertainment.
Miramax had been rumored to have been "in play" for much of this year, with Viacom, Lions Gate, and private company Spyglass Media as potential bidders. However, every suitor eventually walked away, with none willing to pay the prices being asked, even for Miramax's extensive film library. Viacom was the last to bow out, just in November.
However, now that the CBS and Viacaom merger has been completed, it seems as if the merged company under CEO Bob Bakish is interested in Miramax's intellectual property again -- though not exactly in the same way that it was before.
A partial stake for the right to spin off?
According to the report in Variety, ViacomCBS is not looking to acquire all of Miramax. Negotiations have apparently shifted to ViacomCBS taking a smaller equity stake in the company, with terms that would allow ViacomCBS to produce movies and television shows based on Miramax intellectual property.
One could understand why Viacom would be interested -- but also why it wouldn't want to pay too much. A lot of Miramax's 700-plus film library is 20 to 25 years old, and that kind of IP usually has limited value compared with newer original films and TV shows, with a few exceptions such as Friends and The Office. On the other hand, with the streaming wars heating up in earnest, ViacomCBS is expanding content production in a big way, both for its own over-the-top services Showtime and CBS All Access, and also for other rival platforms.
There could very well be potential in remaking these '90s Oscar winners as binge-able, serialized TV shows. Millennials are likely already familiar with these titles and characters, so the "known entity" factor could be beneficial. In fact, one example already exists: Fargo, a show that airs on FX, is based on the Coen brothers' 1996 Oscar-winning film and has run for four seasons.
And according to a June article in Deadline, Paramount Studios -- which is owned by ViacomCBS -- was already co-developing a TV show based on Sliding Doors, a 1998 Miramax film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. As such, buying up more of the IP now could save ViacomCBS licensing fees, should it want to make more new shows based on the large Miramax content library.
But it's likely a little more complicated
Yet don't get the popcorn out for a binge-worthy Pulp Fiction episodic TV series just yet -- as great as that would be. According to the Deadline article, exploitation of the famed Tarantino content such as Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Jackie Brown requires his permission in order to go forward.
While most of Miramax's content library probably doesn't have as much restriction, since Tarantino films were both written and directed by him during a period in which he had lots of power, it's possible other legal complications could get in the way of making spinoffs of famous films and TV shows created by high-profile talent.
ViacomCBS on the content spree
The restarted negotiations are a sign that ViacomCBS is looking to invest even more heavily in content. That's a key part of the company's multipronged strategy to produce shows for other streaming services as well as its own. Both Viacom and CBS have greatly increased their original content spend this year, and having more well-known IP could give the company more firepower to go up against big brands such as Disney and Netflix. Analysts have been skeptical of all the new spending, however, and investors have bid the stock down to value stock levels. Yet content investment is absolutely necessary for any media company to compete in these current wild times in the entertainment industry. How well ViacomCBS will be able to exploit all that content spend remains an open question.