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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Haim Saban

In this episode of Influencers, Andy is joined by billionaire media mogul and Saban Capital Group CEO , Haim Saban, to discuss his support for President-Elect Joe Biden, how the January 6 riot will affect President Trump's legacy, and the media's responsibility in spreading harmful misinformation to the American people.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: Instead of shrinking from the world after he made his billions, media mogul Haim Saban jumped into the fray. The Democratic mega-donor has poured tens of millions into electing the party's candidates, becoming a top power broker with a special focus on policy towards Israel. Saban rose to prominence in the 1990s with the global kids sensation "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," which led to lucrative partnerships with Rupert Murdoch at News Corporation. Now, Saban runs the investment firm Saban Capital Group, with holdings in music, film, and real estate. On this episode of "Influencers," he joins me to talk about the corporate backlash against Donald Trump, what to expect from Joe Biden's first days in office, and why the Fox-Disney merger left him scratching his head.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Haim Saban, media mogul, Democratic mega-donor, chairman and CEO of private investment firm Saban Capital. Hi, nice to see you.

HAIM SABAN: Nice to see you.

ANDY SERWER: So a lot of political news to talk about and I know you're keenly interested in politics. So let me ask you about what happened last week, with regard to the attack on the Capitol. Do you think that President Trump is, in some way, to blame for the siege on the Capitol, and what do you think we should do about this?

HAIM SABAN: Well, the only inaccurate statement you made is in some way. In every single way he is responsible. I mean, he is the one who has been-- fomented this hate and division in the American people for four years, and it culminated in him calling on them to go to the Capitol. I'm no lawyer, but it sounds to me like incitement to commit, you know, a crime, and he should be held accountable for inciting to commit a crime. You know, I'm assuming that no one is above the law in America, and I think it's a fair assumption.

ANDY SERWER: Do you agree that he should leave office before January 20, impeached by Congress or resign, perhaps?

HAIM SABAN: What I really believe is that after what he did and after the way he treated the very loyal lieutenant, I really think that Pence should call for the 25th Amendment. That's what I believe. It would make sense for him to go play golf in Florida and leave us alone. That's what I believe. But apparently, Pence is not ready to do that. So there is no reason-- no rhyme or reason-- to have somebody who committed a crime-- to let that person off the hook. I don't see the reason.

ANDY SERWER: Do you think that Donald Trump is going to continue to play a dominant role in the Republican Party after this, Haim?

HAIM SABAN: It depends on the media. If the media gives him the platform they gave him before the election, worth billions of dollars of exposure, and if they caught him off, like all the online entities cut him off-- Facebook and Twitter-- if-- outside of Fox News-- Fox News is a special animal within itself. But if all the other media-- television media-- simply don't give him a platform-- you give him a platform, he's going to continue with his shenanigans, from birther all the way to inciting this group of Meshuganas to go up on the Hill. You know, so he's going to continue. And if he's cut off from the media, you know, he won't be able to have the same impact.

ANDY SERWER: Meshuganas is Yiddish for crazy people?

HAIM SABAN: That's-- I thought that everybody knows what meshugana is, including in Georgia and Mississippi. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know.

ANDY SERWER: Probably the case. Let me ask you about President-elect Biden because I know you've been a supporter of his, Haim. And he's talking about unifying the country. Is that still possible when a significant portion of the opposition party questions the legitimacy of the Democratic system?

HAIM SABAN: Well, it questions the legitimacy because they believe Trump. If Trump stood up and said, OK, we had a fair election, it is a legitimate election, he is the next president, we wouldn't see any of that. They are just following Trump. Yes, the 74 million people who voted for him, yes, 70% of those 74 million people believe the election was stolen because he says so-- because he says so.

So if he has no platform to continue spewing all these lies, then, you know, we're not going to have this kind of-- and there will always be division. There's always have been divisions but not at that level and not divisions that manifest itself-- a division that manifests itself with violence, the way we saw last Wednesday. So if Trump is cut off from the media, we're going to see that division, you know, really calm down, and there will be no one to fan those flames.

ANDY SERWER: There's a lot of talk now, Haim, about how companies are complicit, how the private sector is complicit. First of all, we talked about Facebook and Twitter and about-- they've banned him now, so that's number one. But then there's also the cable companies that run Newsmax and OANN and the telcos, as well.

Then there are companies that contribute to candidates-- or I should say, Congress people-- who supported blocking the certification. You've seen some companies now say they're not going to support them anymore. And then there's companies, say, using Trump hotels and golf courses and saying they're not going to do that anymore. How far should this go, in your opinion?

HAIM SABAN: You're asking my opinion. My opinion, you should go all the way, but my opinion is secondary. I go back to the point, Trump being given a platform and his followers following what he says. No platform, you know, we're going to see a huge difference.

So I hope very much that outside of the, as I call them, the meshuganas, meaning the crazy people on the extreme right, outside of them and maybe a website here and a website there-- you cannot block everything on the internet-- but the main media should stop giving Trump a platform because that will make Biden's job of uniting the country very difficult-- possible, very difficult.

ANDY SERWER: So Biden has a lot of things on his plate, though, Haim. He's got potentially holding Trump accountable. Obviously, the main story should be COVID, right? And then there's the business of confirming cabinet members. What should he prioritize?

HAIM SABAN: COVID, obviously, the economy, support for people who can't put food on the table. And as he said, he's going to do that. You know, he's-- he was very clear that he's going to do that. And knowing him well, he's a man with a heart. He's not interested in Biden. He's interested in the country, unlike Trump, who's only interested in Trump. Nothing else interests Trump but Trump, as he has proven over and over again.

So you know, he's going to have quite a few issues on his hand, whether it's Russia or China. That's on the international platform. And obviously, domestically, we all know what the issues are. So yeah, he's got a plateful, no question.

ANDY SERWER: Do you support the idea of giving Americans $2,000 checks as part of a multi-trillion-dollar stimulus package?

HAIM SABAN: Above my pay grade to, you know, quote an amount because I don't have, obviously, the full picture of the deficit level, how much more money can the government keep printing or not. So I don't have a full picture. But I'm fully supportive, in principle, for the government to do the maximum to help the people that need help. In principle, I am 100%, whether it's $2,000 or $1,500 or whatever that number is. It really is above my pay grade.

ANDY SERWER: Haim, tell us about how you met President-elect Biden, what you think of him, and how you would respond to people who say, oh, he's a career politician. He's not going to be able to solve any problems.

HAIM SABAN: I say, baloney. You know, he's-- they say-- I've known, you know, President-elect Biden for many, many years. Obviously, from his days in the Senate, I was supportive of him. On some matters, maybe he's a little bit left of me, but he's more of a centrist than a left-wing part of the Democratic Party. And I am absolutely confident that, you know, it was time for us to have somebody with Washington experience in order to get things done, somebody who is able to reach across the aisle, somebody who understands how Congress works. So from that point of view, I think that, you know, President-elect Biden is the right man at the right time in the right place.

ANDY SERWER: And research from the UN and elsewhere has suggested that rising inequality has weakened democracies around the world. Does what happened last week at the Capitol make you think about how unequal the US economy has been?

HAIM SABAN: It is unequal, and I think that President Biden recognizes that-- President-elect, President Biden on the 20th. President-elect Biden recognizes that and plans to address it. You know, again, there are so many avenues that he can take to address that inequality, but I am truly, in my heart of heart, 100% convinced that he is the right man to address that inequality. He's a guy with a heart. We missed heart over the last four years. We were all served by cynicism and division. It's time to put this behind us, one way or the other.

ANDY SERWER: You did say you disagreed with him on some things. What were those kind of areas?

HAIM SABAN: You know, I'm a security hawk. For example, I'm not sure that telling the Iranians publicly that he plans on going back to the deal before-- behind the scenes, letting them know what the conditions are to go back to the deal and, you know, offer some carrots in public and sticks privately. I don't think that there have been discussions directly with the Iranians.

Case in point, they're now, you know, increasing the amount of uranium that they have. They're increasing the level at which it's-- so we're seeing the Iranians, basically, despite all the rhetoric by Trump, doing whatever it is they want to do, and they don't give a hoot about what Trump, you know, puts on sanctions on them. Look at the disaster of results he got out of the deal, but look at the test of results. We're a lot worse off than we were before he got out of the deal.

So the bottom line is that I think that there should have been a different approach to Iran. Yes, of course, we all believe that a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian problem, whether it's ballistic missiles or, you know, the uranium development, et cetera-- you know, all of these are a main issues. But the way they just-- out of the box, this new administration has said we want to go back to the deal, that's a little worrisome. What kind of a signal are you sending?

ANDY SERWER: Right. The president, as you said, certainly has his hands full on the foreign policy front, as well. I noticed that Kim Jong Un was rattling around and making some noise. And of course, he's still there running North Korea so no shortage of things for the President-elect to have to be concerned about there.

HAIM SABAN: No question.

ANDY SERWER: Let me shift gears a little bit, Haim, and ask you about Saban Capital Group, which includes a company focused on acquiring and distributing feature films and another on music production. Talk about what the business has been like during COVID, and what do you expect during 2021?

HAIM SABAN: Well, traditional media, where we invested our monies over the last 20 years-- we're not a fund. We work with our own money. And we've invested in things like Univision. We bought the largest media company in Germany. We bought the incumbent telecom company and Israel, bought and then sold, and the same thing for Germany. Traditional media is no longer, in our view, an opportunity for private equity.

So we have switched our focus to real estate. We're a big-- well, everything is relative, obviously-- but, you know, we're a multibillion-dollar holder of real estate assets. We have switched our efforts to things like acquiring finished films and distributing them, primarily in the US and the UK.

And music is my first love. I started off playing in a band then I was a producer and an agent and manager. And I'm having a lot of fun with it. I love Latin music. Latin music is exploding. So I love working in the studio. Believe it or not, I go to the studio and work with the producers and the writers and the singers, and it's been a lot of fun.

We launched, about a year ago, our first record. We already have, between our four artists, more than 1 billion streams across different platforms. So we're on our way to have a successful music company. And for me, to listen to music at home and come up with ideas for the artists to implement and share it with them, et cetera, it's been a lot of fun. I love it.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I noticed you got your start in music, and I want to ask you about that. I mean, first of all, I think you had a principal who told you you weren't a good student. You self-described yourself as not a terribly good musician. And yet, you've been so successful. So I'm wondering, what is your core competency? You know, what is Haim Saban really good at?

HAIM SABAN: Nothing and everything. Because really good is a very committing statement. So really good? Nothing. Pretty good-- you know, instinct this is a very important trait. And I have been blessed to-- don't get me wrong. I've made plenty of mistakes and made investments that didn't necessarily pan out as I was planning to. On balance, everything is great, but there have been mistakes along the way. And my instincts, in most cases, have served me well and in some cases, not so well. So--

ANDY SERWER: Right. Now, I noticed you have that guitar behind you. Is there any way you could play us a tune?

HAIM SABAN: There is no way because I think you mentioned before that I admitted to being a lousy musician. So I don't want to-- I am. But being a lousy musician, you can still be a great producer, by the way. And the millions of records I have sold as a producer, when I lived in France, is proof to the fact that I knew what I was doing. And you know, the beginning of the success that we're having here with our music company, which is one year old, you know, is proof that, you know, I have a sense of what people want to listen to.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, sort of like you don't have to be the best baseball player to be the best baseball manager.

HAIM SABAN: That's a very good analogy, absolutely.

ANDY SERWER: And so just one more thing about this guitar playing on your part, what do you like to play? If you're not going to play it for us, then what do you like to play, what kind of music?

HAIM SABAN: I love all kinds of music. I love all kinds of music. My playlists include everything from classic to Israeli music, classic Israeli music, modern Israeli music, Latin music, pop. I admit that I don't understand hip-hop, so I don't listen to it because I just-- I can't get my arms around hip-hop. I just don't know what's good, what's not good, and there's nothing about hip-hop that's appealing to me, at please. But overall, any kind of music, you know, that pleases my ear pleases my soul. So that's how it works.

ANDY SERWER: Right. And let me ask you, is streaming helping or hurting right now? I mean, eventually, your acts would have to perform live at some point again, right?

HAIM SABAN: Well, realistically speaking, the numbers speak for themselves. 27% of revenue for artists come from streaming, unless you're a phenomenon like Drake or J Balvin. 27% comes from streaming, 63% from all other sources-- touring, merchandising, branding, and the like. And the 63% has been frozen.

But we all hope that with the vaccine, whether it takes another six months or another 12 months-- I don't think anybody has a true sense to put a date on it-- but it will come back. It will come back. And once it comes back, that 63% of sources of revenue will be back on the table, so yeah.

ANDY SERWER: You mentioned real estate, which is curious to me because a lot of people would say, wow, that's not a good business to be in right now because of COVID. What's your thesis there?

HAIM SABAN: Well, there-- we are in a-- we don't develop anything. We buy yield, if you will. And we are in categories that have been COVID resistant-- GSA, which is government, as a tenant, self-storage, student housing, you know, manufactured housing. So I am, you know, very sorry for all those that have suffered from COVID in the real estate area, but we have been very fortunate to have been minimally affected-- minimally.

ANDY SERWER: And you mentioned Univision, of course, which is a deal and a company that you're known for. Where does that stand? You wound that investment up, correct?

HAIM SABAN: Well, we just sold it. We just sold it.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

HAIM SABAN: That was not a shining moment in my investment career, I must admit, because we have been, you know, suffering what all traditional media has suffered. Linear television, according to Bob Iger, the Disney chairman, in 10 years, will not exist. So very few people say, OK, it's Thursday, 9:00 PM. Let's turn on CBS and watch this show. That's not how people watch TV these days. So so many people don't-- especially in the younger generation, don't even have cable or satellite.

So traditional media, we have been one of the victims of the gradual erosion of traditional media. So hey, you win some, you lose some, right? So--

ANDY SERWER: It was--

HAIM SABAN: But if, on balance, you win, you're good.

ANDY SERWER: That-- yes. It was hard to see that coming, I guess. Is there anything you look back on now and realize you could have done differently with that deal?

HAIM SABAN: Yeah, I could have taken my money and put it in an index, and it would have tripled and I wouldn't have had to work that hard for 14 years. So but, you know, who would have known, 14 years ago, that, you know, traditional media would be where it is today?

ANDY SERWER: Well, I think it's great that you can laugh about it because some people would just say, I don't want to talk about it. So the fact that you've sort of processed it and let it go, to an extent, I think is a healthy thing.

HAIM SABAN: No, I let it go. I let it go. I mean, you know, it is what it is. What's important is on balance, what's our investment performance overall. That's more important, in my opinion, than any one specific deal. No one has nothing but wins-- no one, not Warren Buffett, not Bill Gates. No one has nothing but wins. You win some, you lose some, and that's OK.

ANDY SERWER: Only Bernie Madoff had nothing but wins.

HAIM SABAN: Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: That should have made people suspicious.

HAIM SABAN: Yeah, well, exactly. Thank God we didn't have a Donald with him.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Big tech companies, like Apple and Amazon, have been getting into original content, Haim. Do you think they'll succeed?

HAIM SABAN: If they decide, as a matter of a strategic, you know, goal, they'll have no problem because they have all the money in the world to buy the biggest talent in America. And by definition, when you're able to work with the biggest talent, you're going to have a huge success.

So yeah, eventually, yeah, it's just a matter of a strategic decision for the Apple of this world to say, OK, I'm going to be bigger than any other studio. OK, and I have $250 billion in the bank, and I generate billions of dollars of free cash flow. I'm going to do it. And they do it. So I think that it's only a matter of strategic decision for them.

ANDY SERWER: Another thing you're known for is "Power Rangers," and so that brings me to ask you, what do you think future trends look like in the media business, both in terms of content, maybe, and in terms of distribution? How are you seeing things?

HAIM SABAN: Well, I'll speak to the kids business, and the kids business will always be there because every year, new kids are born. And interestingly enough, during this COVID time, companies like Mattel and Hasbro are doing really well. Their sales are up by double digits.

So I think that the toy business is not going away. Entertainment for kids is not going away. We have many more platforms than we used to have, obviously. Take one example of a show called "Cocomelon," which has tens of millions of followers on YouTube.

And so I think that the kids business is going to continue flourishing, again, as I said, for the simple reason that new kids are born every year. So it's a no-brainer.

ANDY SERWER: When you have your content on YouTube, though, can you monetize that? Or are you just helping out Sundar Pichai over at Google to get rich?

HAIM SABAN: Sundar Pichai gets less rich than Sergey Brin and-- what's the name of the other one?

ANDY SERWER: Larry Page.

HAIM SABAN: And Larry Page. Yeah, they get richer than Sundar. He gets plenty rich, but they-- of course you monetize it. A show like "Cocomelon," I am sure, has, you know, very broad merchandising campaigns everywhere. And they sell toys, and they can go on live shows, once live shows come back.

YouTube delivers significant exposure. They're pretty stingy about how they share their revenues with creators, but there's still quite a bit of money, if you're very successful on YouTube. And then all the ancillaries are there, so they absolutely-- shows like "Cocomelon" are making a lot of money.

ANDY SERWER: You've been involved in media M&A over the years, as we've talked about a little bit. How would you assess the most recent ones and how they're doing so far, which is to say Time Warner and AT&T and Fox and Disney, companies you know a little bit more about?

HAIM SABAN: Right. Well, AT&T did the right thing to buy DirecTV when they did. And we know that they bought it-- I used-- I was on the board at the time of DirecTV. They bought it for $50 billion, and now it's up for sale for $15 billion.

ANDY SERWER: Nice.

HAIM SABAN: So they, like us, have become victims of traditional media problem that we have worldwide, by the way. So from that point of view, not so great. The Time Warner-- or the Warner, I should say--

ANDY SERWER: Yeah.

HAIM SABAN: --content that they bought, I think, was a good move. And they got a great guy, Jason Kilar, a guy with a vision, to run it. And I think that they're doing some very interesting things. I think they're going to come out really well with the Warner acquisition, in my humble opinion.

ANDY SERWER: And then Fox and Disney?

HAIM SABAN: Well, that's one that stunned me because Rupert doesn't sell anything. He doesn't like to sell absolutely anything. And that one, he realized, it's a matter of too big to be small and too small to be big. So he really needed to make a move, either acquire, which he did try to acquire Warner, because he realized, you need more scale, both at the content and-- as well as the distribution level.

So when he identified the fact that, you know, there wasn't much for him to buy to-- and again, this is my humble opinion-- and Bob Iger came to him with this offer, he said, well, OK, I'll go the other way. I'll play the Disney card. And I'm assuming he took stock, so he's doing all right. Rupert is doing all right.

ANDY SERWER: And finally, last question, Haim, this show is called "Influencers," and so I'm curious how you see using your influence on the world.

HAIM SABAN: Well, that is-- how can I-- well, first of all, I might have some influence outside of my household. When I walk back into my household, it's-- as Jackie Mason likes to say, I say, where should I put my jacket? You know, I don't have that much influence.

So on the world, I think that people who have been as fortunate as I have been just simply need to give back. This is how you can-- you know, identify weak points in society that you feel you can be helpful with, and just give back. There's no better feeling than the feeling of giving back. There is no more gratifying feeling than the feeling of giving back. And that's what my wife and I have been doing now for-- I don't know-- 30 years is just giving back to society.

There are some specific causes that are of interest to us. Like health and battered women are of great interest to my wife, the rape center and so on and so forth, the free clinic that carries our name. We are very, very sensitive to people's suffering, and we try to do our part.

ANDY SERWER: Well, best of luck to you on that front and in all your endeavors. Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group, thank you so much for joining us today.

HAIM SABAN: Thank you very much.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.