DreamWorks Animation in talks to sell to Japan’s SoftBank

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DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind the “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar” movies, is in talks to sell the company to Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank Corp., according to a person familiar with the talks.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of the Glendale studio, has been in discussions to sell the company he launched twenty years ago to SoftBank, which owns Sprint Corp. and recently dropped a bid to acquire T-Mobile.

The DreamWorks board held a meeting Thursday to consider an offer by SoftBank to buy DreamWorks for $32 a share, well above the company’s current share price, which closed at $22.36 on Friday, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the talks.


A spokeswoman for DreamWorks Animation said she could not comment on “rumors and speculation.”

Katzenberg considered selling the company two years ago but withdrew those plans to focus on building the business into a broad-based studio with interests in television, theme parks, live entertainment and digital media. Last year, it bought YouTube teen network AwesomenessTV for $33 million in cash.

In an interview with The Times this summer, Katzenberg said he was no longer looking to sell the studio but focusing on growing its businesses.

The talks with SoftBank come as DreamWorks Animation has been attempting to diversify its operations after a string of box-office misfires over the last two years that rattled investors and caused a sharp decline in the company’s share price.

Earlier this year, the company took a $57-million write-down for “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” the third write-down in less than two years for the studio. After its 2013 summer hit “The Croods,” DreamWorks took a $13.5-million charge this year on its snail comedy “Turbo.” And last year, DreamWorks reported an $87-million write-down for “Rise of the Guardians.” The flop was one reason DreamWorks laid off about 350 employees.
The company scored a hit with its latest movie, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” which did big business in China.

DreamWorks Animation was founded twenty years ago as part of the studio created by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The company was spun off as a separate public company in 2004.


Since then, the company has evolved from a fledgling studio into a $700-million-a-year multimedia powerhouse and one of the industry’s leading animation companies.

But Katzenberg has come under growing pressure to improve DreamWorks’ performance as it faces growing competition from rival studios. The company posted a $15.4 million loss in the second quarter.
SoftBank has been on the lookout for acquisitions. Last year, the company made an unsuccessful attempt to buy Universal Music Group from Vivendi. SoftBank recently drew attention for its $20-million investment in Chinese Internet giant Alibaba.

SoftBank owns companies or pieces of them in wireless, broadband, Internet, e-commerce and other tech-economy sectors, including a majority share in U.S. cellphone carrier Sprint.

Recently, SoftBank hired Nikesh Arora, a business development hotshot who spent ten years at Google, to engineer new deals for SoftBank. If the DreamWorks Animation deal pans out, SoftBank will have more content to stream over its pipelines.

The deal talks were first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

Times Staff writer Russ Mitchell contributed to this report.