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Death of a Hollywood Savior

jeff skoll
Unlike most rich guys, Jeff Skoll came to Hollywood accepting that he would almost certainly lose his ass, or at least he set up a structure to justify the losses. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival
Matthew Belloni
April 18, 2024

For a lot of people in town, the shuttering of Participant Media this week felt abrupt and out-of-nowhere—a sucker punch to Hollywood by an impulsive tech mogul. But it wasn’t. Talking to finance sources this week, I learned that Jeff Skoll, the eBay billionaire and philanthropist who started Participant 20 years ago to make top-quality content with a social-impact agenda, actually hired Goldman Sachs last spring to run a last-ditch sale process. The pitch deck sent to prospective buyers touted Participant as a “category-defining” business “focused on timely and emotionally transformational stories which speak to the world’s most important issues.”

That was certainly accurate. An acquirer of Participant would get the company behind everything from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the great RBG documentary to Spielberg’s Lincoln and Cuarón’s Roma—all told, films that generated 86 Oscar nominations and 21 wins, including two best pictures, Spotlight and Green Book. On the TV side, they’d get Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and Steve James’s City So Real, 44 Emmy nominations and 11 wins. In short, a company “driving world change” with an “unrivaled reputation for quality,” the pitch went.