The Hollywood media mogul Haim Saban was recently described by The Jerusalem Post as the world’s “most influential Jew”. As one of the Democrats’ top donors – he has donated tens of millions to the party and has a longstanding “hotline” to the Clintons – his power can only grow if they win the White House. The billionaire chairman of Univision, America’s largest Spanish-language media company, has two ambitions, says Bloomberg Businessweek. The first is to elect Hillary Clinton president; the second, to take Univision public. These “two crusades” are now “converging”.
Clinton cannot win without strong support from Hispanic voters. Saban’s Univision conveniently boasts that it is “the gateway to Hispanic America”, reaching 40 million people in the demographic.
The network’s adversarial approach to Donald Trump, and its recent acquisition of the remnants of Nick Denton’s Gawker online media empire, have grabbed the attention of many English-speaking Americans. “Hipsters and Hispanics”, as Denton has observed, are “two of the fastest-growing demographics in the US”. The network’s growing clout will improve his chances of a successful IPO, a process that “might play out more favourably under president-elect Clinton than Trump”.
Saban, 72, has never been “given to modest ambitions”, says The New Yorker. In Hollywood, where he made his name as the man who brought Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from Japan to America, Saban is seen as “a force of nature”.
A charming raconteur and host, whose Beverly Park mansion is filled with antiquities from Israel and Chagall paintings, he is also a cut-throat dealmaker. “It’s easy to be charmed by Haim,” says former DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg. But he’s “a laser-focused, razor-sharp, take-no-prisoners killer”. The deal that established Saban’s billionaire status and clout – the 2001 sale of the Fox Family network to Disney – is still enshrined in Hollywood lore as “one of the greatest business coups in entertainment history”, notes The Wrap.
Born in Egypt in 1944, Saban and his family fled to Israel when he was 12, ending up in one room in Tel Aviv. He attended an agricultural boarding school but was expelled. “You’re cut out for making money,” the principal told him.
Saban talked his way into a band he took on tour to Europe, later settling in Paris as a record producer. His breakthrough, says The New Yorker, was discovering the “hidden gem of music publishing”: vast royalties reaped from music aired on TV cartoons. That took him to Hollywood in 1983. Within a decade he had emerged as a fully fledged mogul after forging a partnership with Fox to show the blockbusting Power Rangers.
Saban “is most proud of his role as a political power broker” and remains “deeply connected to Israel”. Some reckon that if Clinton is elected, he is the obvious channel between the US and Israeli governments, says Bloomberg. He denies any interest. “I don’t want to change anything in my life… I just want to be Haim Saban.” Time will tell.