When Sony entered a $250 million seven-year deal to distribute recordings of the late pop star Michael Jackson, it didn’t know that the documentary Leaving Neverland that ran on HBO would cast a pall over Jackson’s reputation, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The result could be a negative impact on sales and uses of Jackson’s music as well as related merchandise and events.
Leaving Neverland further explores details charges of sexual abuse and pedophilia against the musician, stirring outrage over the Jackson legacy.
James Safechuck and Wade Robson claim that when they were children, Jackson sexually abused them repeatedly over a period of years. Both men say he also gave them alcohol and had them watch pornography.
The men’s stories and the documentary itself have had many defenders and detractors. But the controversy could affect the practical value of the Jackson brand and what it might be worth going forward. Since his 2009 overdose death, Jackson’s estate has brought in a reported $2 billion in deals.
The documentary has made many reconsider their feelings toward the performer. The two-part, four-hour documentary pulled 1.3 million viewers on Sunday night and 927,000 on Monday, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Data isn’t yet available for the impact on Jackson’s practical popularity. Streaming figures from online services won’t be available until March 11. Radio stations may decide to play less from the Jackson catalog.
The Jackson estate, which has repeatedly denied the charges, has since brought a $100 million lawsuit against HBO.
Other musicians have found themselves financially hurt by negative documentaries. Sony Music dropped R. Kelly after the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired in January.