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Is Spielberg "Immaterial"?

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The gloves have come off in the battle between Paramount and Dreamworks. First Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said Tuesday during the Goldman Sachs conference that if Dreamworks toppers Steven Spielberg and David Geffen left the Paramount fold, “the financial impact” to both Paramount and Viacom would be “completely immaterial.” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the third partner in Dreamworks and the head of the animation studio, defended his business partners Wednesday at the conference, calling Spielberg nothing short of a national treasure and cautioning Dauman from using such harsh language.

Until now, Paramount has played the nice guy while the Dreamworks toppers have been complaining to the media about their treatment under the Paramount umbrella. Par now seems to be biting back, following the lead of Viacom overlord Sumner Redstone, who publicly dissed Tom Cruise last year. What’s more, Dauman may be right that the loss of those two titans would mean little to Viacom’s bottom line. Paramount now owns the rights to all the sequels of Dreamworks properties, including Transformers 2, plus everything the studio has in development. That would mean Spielberg and Geffen would have to start from scratch again. Also, while Stacey Snider would likely follow Geffen and Spielberg if they were to leave at the end of 2008, it’s not clear whether many of the original Dreamworks’ employees would jump ship, too. They followed Geffen and Spielberg before, but would they be willing to do it again under presumably much more stringent conditions?