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Steven Spielberg To Ditch Paramount And Reinvent DreamWorks?

Steven Spielberg
AP
Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg can opt out of his contract with Paramount Pictures at the end of this year. The question of whether Spielberg stays or leaves is a hot topic in Hollywood, one which could have huge implications for Viacom, Paramount's parent company's bottom line.

Today's news: Spielberg aims to raise more than $1 billion dollars to reinvent DreamWorks as a stand-alone company, according to the Hollywood Reporter. If Spielberg can raise a billion dollars-- which considering his clout and track record shouldn't be too hard -- he could secure a bank facility to move forward with independent production.

The idea is: Spielberg wants to own the movies it makes -- instead of having Paramount own them as it does now. And rumor has it, he wants to distribute through Universal Studios (CNBC's sister company). Not only did Universal just barely lose Spielberg to Paramount, but Spielberg DreamWorks out of his old Amblin offices on Universal's lot.

As of May 1, Spielberg's contract allows him to talk to the other studios about potentially striking a deal. Though it's possible Spielberg would stay at Paramount, sources tell me Universal is a frontrunner, and Foxand Disney are also reportedly interested. A deal would consist of one of these studios committing to releasing Spielberg's films for a fee, likely doing the marketing and distribution of the movies.

In addition to Spielberg, DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider and chairman David Geffen can opt out of their contracts at the end of this year. But most of their team are locked into staying at their posts at Paramount's DreamWorks. (I keep hearing about executives whose contracts are renewed even though the big bosses may not stick around the company until they expire.)

That being said, Spielberg has many ties to Paramount-- from the Indiana Jones series which Paramount distributes and Spielberg directs, to Transformers, co-produced by DreamWorks and Paramount. That means if Spielberg were to leave Paramount, there would be some detailed negotiations about who would retain the rights to what. And those ties would mean that Spielberg has some leverage to negotiate to bring his team with him if he wants.

Now the looming question is of course: what does this mean for Viacom? (VIA) To be fair, Paramount is just a percentage of Viacom's bottom line-- the majority of the company is its cable networks. But when it comes to its filmed entertainment division, it's heavily reliant on DreamWorks product. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman has "made nice" with Spielberg after a spate of name calling. But even a smoother working relationship between Dauman and Spielberg won't necessarily mean that they'll stick together.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.