Yesterday, I wrote about Sumner Redstone’s anger at losing MySpace to Rupert Murdoch. Redstone himself frankly acknowledges the stupidity of this omission; indeed, it was the reason he cited for firing Tom Freston. I analogized this to something within my own personal experience, which was EMI’s loss of domestic rights to the Roulette Records catalog, when EMI acquired the international rights. In fact, EMI actually funded Rhino Records’ acquisition of the domestic rights. This incident made me reflect on other stupid EMI deals with which I was involved. While there are several worthy candidates, the all-time corker was EMI’s sale of EMI Films.
Here’s what happened. In 1969, EMI acquired Associated British Picture Corp. (ABPC), originally British International Pictures, including its famous Elstree Studios complex, a chain of movie theaters, and a substantial film library. The resulting company was known as EMI Films. EMI Ltd. itself was acquired by Thorn Electrical Industries Ltd. in 1979; the resulting company was called Thorn-EMI. Thorn-EMI had interests in a number of different businesses, including defense electronics, missiles, cat scanners, heating, lighting, and renting furniture.
It tired of the film business, and was dubious as to the future value of its copyrights. So, in 1986, it sold EMI Films to the Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond, for $190 million, “Thorn Unit Sold,” New York Times (Dec. 11, 1985) (even though the transaction was announced in 1985, it didn’t close until April 1986). Alan Bond is one of those legendary characters, people either love him or loathe him. At one time his holdings extended from diamond mines and airships to breweries. While I never met him, he reminds me of the music manager Don Arden, with whom I have dealt. More on him later.
Bond was no dummy. One of the other companies in the bidding for EMI Films was Cannon Films, owned by the equally entrepreneurial Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus. Literally within the space of a few days, Bond turned around and sold EMI Films to Cannon Films for $266 million, “Bond Holdings Sells New Unit,” New York Times (May 3, 1986). In other words, having owned the company for less than a week, Bond made a profit of around $76 million. As an EMI shareholder at the time, I certainly wondered what was up; shouldn’t this money have gone to EMI shareholders, instead?
Oh well, such is life in the big city. The Cannon library later was acquired by Weintraub Entertainment, then Movie Acquisitions Corporation, which was renamed Lumiere Pictures, then UGC (DA), and now is with Canal + Image UK.