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DreamWorks Animation said in talks for sale to Comcast

The Comcast logo on one of the company's

The Comcast logo on one of the company's vehicles, in Pittsburgh, Feb. 11, 2011. Photo Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the maker of movies including "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda," is in talks for a sale to Comcast Corp., according to people familiar with the matter.

The discussions with Comcast, owner of Universal Pictures, may not lead to a deal, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. DreamWorks Animation is run by founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Adding DreamWorks Animation would bolster Comcast's children's lineup and bring online assets like Awesomeness TV, which targets millennials on YouTube. For Katzenberg, who has tried to sell DreamWorksAnimation before, Comcast offers protection from the ups and downs of a small studio with a stock price dependent on box-office hits.

"Animation in terms of content is very valuable and DreamWorks has been underperforming for a number of years," said Neil Campling, a media analyst at Aviate Global in London. "This isn't the first time we've heard suggestions of it being for sale."

Comcast executives, on a first-quarter conference call, said they wouldn't comment on merger speculation.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Comcast could pay more than $3 billion for the company.

DreamWorks Animation advanced as much as 19 percent in New York trading Wednesday, its highest level in more than two years. The shares were up 17 percent to $31.84 at 1:02 p.m. With the gains, the company's market value is about $2.76 billion. Comcast also rose, climbing as much as 2.9 percent to $62.79.

A Comcast deal of $3 billion-plus would represent a multiple of 19.5 times analysts' projections for DreamWorksAnimation's combined 2016 and 2017 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. That multiple is a 28 percent premium to studio peer Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., he said. Lions Gate gained as much as 7.4 percent Wednesday.

Comcast would make an ideal parent for DreamWorks Animation, especially with its ownership of Illumination, maker of hit films "Minions" and "Despicable Me," Campling said. He rates Illumination as the No. 3 animation studio behind Disney and Pixar.

Katzenberg has been expanding the television business at DreamWorks Animation, selling cartoon series like "The Adventures of Puss in Boots" to Netflix as he seeks to break a dependence on the box office.

That might be attractive to Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable company, which is looking for ways to grow as pay-TV customers cut the cord and younger adults opt for online services like Netflix.

Dealmaking has been heating up in Hollywood, with Viacom Inc. saying it's looking to sell part of Paramount Pictures.

"Content owners have become increasingly valuable as of late and we could argue Comcast sees potential value in the library of franchises, characters that could be integrated," said Eric Wold, a B. Riley & Co. analyst covering the entertainment industry.

Merger speculation has surrounded DreamWorks Animation since 2014, when it had approaches from Hasbro and Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. After a series of film write-offs, Katzenberg in early 2015 implemented a wide ranging restructuring, cutting 18 percent of the company's workforce and selling its Glendale, California-based campus.

The studio also committed to reducing its film costs and the number of movies it made a year to two. Katzenberg himself said he would refocus on making his features profitable. There have been some bright spots, with the studio seeing some success with "Home," its only feature last year, and its growing TV business.

Comcast's Universal Pictures comes off its best year ever in movies but will faces the challenge of keeping up with Walt Disney Co. -- owner of LucasFilm, Marvel and Pixar -- which will produce an estimated record number of billion-dollar movies in 2016. Comcast's NBCUniversal business -- which includes TV, films and theme parks -- generated about 38 percent of total revenue and 31 percent of operating income last year.

Despite the report of talks, a deal doesn't make sense, said Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen & Co. He said in a research note that DreamWorks Animation had too little to offer Comcast.

"Given the company's continued uneven box office performance and marginal profitability, we have a hard time believing any deal will happen, particularly given the lack of strategic logic for Comcast," Creutz wrote.

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