Universal Pictures Goes Global

MARTY MCFLY'S call from his boss came through sooner than anticipated. Remember the delightful segment in ``Back To The Future II,'' when Michael J. Fox, playing a middle-aged Marty McFly in an America of the future, had to answer a telephone call - hooked up to a large TV screen - from his employer? His ``boss'' turned out to be a tycoon from Japan. The ``Back To The Future'' films were products of Universal Pictures, a subsidiary of MCA Inc. And in a deal raising eyebrows in Hollywood and Washington, Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Company has just agreed to take over MCA for around $6.8 billion - the largest foreign buyout yet of a US company. Ironically, Matsushita will soon be Marty McFly's boss at Universal Pictures.

The Matsushita/MCA link-up is hardly unique. Of the eight major US film studios, three others - Columbia, 20th Century Fox, and MGM-UA - are overseas-owned. Disney, Paramount, Warner, and Orion remain US-owned.

Clearly, overseas ``hardware'' makers like Matsushita and Sony need US ``software.'' Matsushita makes electronic products under the Panasonic, Quasar, and Technics brand names. What it gets from an MCA takeover are US cultural products - movies, videos, TV shows, and records. Matsushita will be using its money to market US-produced culture.

Another trend may also be under way. US companies are facing increasing difficulty obtaining bank financing needed for expansion during this period of economic slowdown. MCA's president said his company agreed to the Matsushita offer because of its need for capital.

Congress and federal antitrust regulators should take a hard look at the Matsushita/MCA takeover, to ensure that overseas ownership doesn't compromise artistic independence. Washington should also loosen up the credit-reins for US businesses.

Still, the movie industry remains truly global - from intricate financing packages to the stars themselves, many of whom are from abroad, including Marty McFly - Michael J. Fox - from Canada. Matsushita conquer Hollywood? Nonsense. If history is a guide, the reverse will occur.

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