Paramount Will Let Exclusive Talks With Skydance Lapse, Imperiling Deal

Paramount told Skydance that it would not extend the Hollywood studio’s exclusive window to negotiate a merger, two people with knowledge of the decisions said Friday, imperiling the deal but opening the door to other suitors for the owner of MTV and Nickelodeon.

The development throws up a major roadblock for Skydance, a movie studio that has been negotiating a complicated deal to merge with Paramount for months. Many Paramount investors have come out against that deal, saying it would enrich Shari Redstone, the company’s board chair, at the expense of other shareholders.

The 30-day period for exclusive talks with a special committee of Paramount’s board expires at the end of Friday. It is unclear what Skydance, which was founded by the tech scion and producer David Ellison, and its backer, RedBird Capital Partners, will do next. The company could wait for Paramount to re-engage in negotiations, could make a higher bid or could walk away. The company is wary of being used by Paramount to drive up the price for another bidder.

Paramount’s special committee will now probably focus on negotiating with another suitor, Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has teamed up with the private equity giant Apollo Global Management to make a $26 billion bid for the company. Paramount’s shareholders prefer the all-cash offer — which would include the assumption of Paramount’s debt — because it would give them a substantial premium on the company’s current stock price.

Paramount’s special committee is set to meet on Saturday to discuss the deal, the two people with knowledge of the company’s plans said.

The deal with Sony and Apollo is not without its own risk. Government regulations restrict foreign ownership of broadcast networks, like Paramount’s CBS. Sony Pictures Entertainment is a division of the Tokyo-based Sony Group, and it’s unlikely that it could obtain a license to own CBS. But there are potential remedies to that problem: Apollo could apply to hold the license to CBS, or the group could decide to sell the network.

Paramount’s fate ultimately lies in Ms. Redstone’s hands. Her control of National Amusements, Paramount’s parent company, gives her the power to block any deal. Ms. Redstone has already signed off on a potential deal between Skydance and National Amusements that would allow her to sell her stake for around $2 billion, but that deal hinges on approval of a merger of Paramount and Skydance.

CNBC earlier reported that Paramount was planning to end exclusive negotiations with Skydance.

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