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Film financier TSG is suing Disney for allegedly withholding millions in profits by using “nearly every trick in the Hollywood accounting book.”
TSG has spent $3.3 billion on 140 projects at Fox, which was acquired by Disney in a $71.3 billion deal in 2019, per Deadline. Some of these projects include ”The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Deadpool,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “The Shape of Water.”
One of the major issues of the lawsuit involves distribution. These industry standards have shifted dramatically as streaming services became more popular, especially after COVID lockdowns.
“This windowing of film distribution is designed to maximize profits for the studios (and for stakeholders like TSG) by preventing one distribution revenue stream from cannibalizing another,” the lawsuit says. “When windows are collapsed on one another, however, the studio (and its investors) miss out on significant potential sources of revenue.”
The suit states that Disney “ordered” 20th Century Film Studio to renegotiate the output deal, therefore giving up “a significant portion of its guaranteed HBO license fees” in exchange for HBO allowing these films to stream on Disney+ and Hulu. They say this was a financial boon for Disney, the shareholders, and senior executives, but wound up costing TSG “millions.”
The company further alleged that this move caused a reduction in its cash flow, which prevented it from investing in future money-making projects, including “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
TSG claims that 20th ignored a standing agreement with FX Networks that calculated license fees tied to domestic box office performance, The Hollywood Reporter noted. They further accused the studio of brokering “a secret side deal for a fraction of what the parties had previously agreed was fair value.”
TSG’s attorney John Berlinski used the phrase “Hollywood accounting” to describe how studios “cheat” investors, including his clients, out of profit money. The attorney also represented Scarlett Johansson when she sued Disney over her cut of the film “Black Widow.”
“Disney (and the executives running it) had and continue to have every incentive to do anything and everything they can, including manipulating distribution of the Qualifying Pictures and preventing TSG from liquidating its interests in certain tranches of Qualifying Pictures, to attempt to boost Disney’s share price at the expense of TSG and other profit participants,” Berlinski wrote in the complaint.
Auditors estimated that TSG’s earnings were reduced by at least $54.5 million from Electronic Sell-Through distribution, per The Hollywood Reporter.
The suit also calls out Disney CEO Bob Iger specifically.
“Moreover, as Disney’s own CEO, Bob Iger, has admitted, his company pursued this strategy recklessly and with little forethought,” the document states. “For example, during Disney’s August 9, 2023 earnings call—in which Mr. Iger announced Disney+’s second subscription price increase in a year—Mr. Iger admitted with respect to Disney+, ‘We grew this business really fast, really before we even understood what our pricing strategy should be or could be.’”
Reps for Disney have not yet commented publicly on the lawsuit.
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