MediaFile

MGM to remain independent no longer?

What’s going to happen to MGM?

On Tuesday, the Hollywood studio announced it was replacing its chief executive Harry Sloan with a team that includes a turnaround expert. It’s a well-known fact that MGM, which is owned by private equity firms and Comcast, has struggled with a massive debt load. It has payments due on $3.7 billion of debt and the future isn’t looking too good, given the down market and shrinking DVD demand.

Media and entertainment industry analysts believe MGM won’t last much longer as an independent studio, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times:

Most industry watchers believe that MGM will not survive much longer as an independent studio and is likely to be sold to a bigger media company such as Time Warner Inc. or merged with another movie and TV studio like Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Qualia Capital, a private investment firm headed by Amir Malin and Ken Schapiro, is actively looking at MGM, said a person with knowledge of the situation.

Who else could be a buyer? There were rumors earlier that investor Carl Icahn, who is a major shareholder in Lions Gate, was buying up MGM’s debt in the open market with the intention of forcing a merger between the two studios.

Then, there’s Comcast, which already owns a stake in MGM and could potentially be interested in owning MGM’s rich content librabry, which includes the James Bond films. Reuters’ Yinka Adegoke recently wrote that investors worry that Comcast will make a splashy acquisition soon. Could this be it?

Epix nears launch date — more distribution deals coming?

Suddenly, after limited news over the past year, Epix has been very much the talk of the town in recent days. A number of publications, including Reuters, have picked up on some announcements out of the pay TV site jointly owned by Paramount, Lions Gate, and MGM.

The key bit of news, of course, was the announcement that it had reached its first distribution deal, with Verizon. Chief Executive Mark Greenberg suggested to us that other deals should be coming soon — that he is talking to everybody and “some are further along than others.”

This is key, in the eyes of Wall Street. Distribution deals are always a bit tricky, and even tougher in the current economic environment. But analysts want to see Epix sign a deal with one of the big players — one with a ton of subscribers. We’re talking about Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV. So far the reaction has been a little lukewarm from some of the big boys but that could just be a negotiating tactic.

What does Wall Street think of Yahoo the morning after?

The reaction to Yahoo’s earnings in the stock market this morning was relatively positive. Shares rose 2 percent right off the bat, but we’ll see what happens as the day rolls on. Meanwhile, here are what some Wall Streeters had to say about the quarter in various research reports.

Signal Hill Capital Group: While all of Yahoo’s business segments declined, display was by far the hardest hit.  Display ad sales fell 27% sequentially and 13% YoY to $371 million, as premium inventory is either not selling out, or is selling at very depressed CPM’s.  Yahoo’s search business declined less, but is hardly a bright spot.  Search revenue dropped 9% sequentially, compared with Google’s 4% sequential decline.

Collins Stewart: Given how bad display and search ad trends were during the March quarter, we believe the earning was not bad. CEO Bartz is clearly bringing fresh perspective, sound cost management, and portfolio optimization approach, which we believe will start yielding positive results. We continue to believe that Microsoft-Yahoo search deal is very likely and silence by CEO Bartz during the earnings call suggested to us that something is brewing.

Icahn vs Lions Gate heating up

Not so fast Mr. Icahn. Lions Gate Entertainment is trying to defend itself against famed financier Carl Icahn by hiring an advisory team, including investment bank Morgan Stanley and the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz.

It also is in talks to offer a board seat to Mark Rachesky of MHR Fund Management, the studio’s largest shareholder.

Icahn controls 14.5 percent of Lions Gate’s shares and wants to increase his sway, seemingly because he’s frustrated with things like costs and the company’s decision to buy the TV Guide cable channel.

The media is hungry for corporate excess

Guess where the paparazzi are training their lenses these days? For those of you who missed it, The New York Times writes that gossip rags have all but abandoned Britney Spears for the thrill of capturing corporate excesses on camera. From the paper:

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

Populist indignation apart, perhaps people also feel a sense of glee when watching or reading about the severe scaling back of corporate budgets that once supported lavish lifestyles. Gawker may have captured the glee best in this biting account of The Wall Street Journal story on Goldman Sachs executives being asked to stay at Embassy Suites rather than the Ritz.

What’s next for Lions Gate?

Last week, it had seemed like Lions Gate and Carl Icahn were heading to an amicable settlement (in other words, Icahn was close to getting his way because the independent film and television studio was leaning toward giving him a board seat or two).

But things obviously soured, because talks broke down, raising the specter of a proxy fight for control of Lions Gate.

From Icahn: “Discussions have been terminated because agreement could not be reached concerning certain aspects of the standstill agreement that Lions Gate demanded as a condition of installing those board members.:

Outlook grim for media and entertainment deals

Deal-making in the U.S. media and entertainment sectors is going to be down this year, says a new PricewaterhouseCoopers survey (request a copy here). Now, that’s not a new or startling conclusion given the state of the economy, but it’s just another piece of evidence that when consumers and advertisers get thrifty, deal makers can end up become benchwarmers as companies struggle with cost cuts and other exigencies.

Here are some industry trends for 2009 from the PWC survey:

    Declining consumer spending is hitting many media and entertainment companies. What’s more, these declines were exacerbated by technological convergence, as these firms adapt to and look for ways to make money off new Internet technologies. Overall U.S. advertising market is going to shrink as sponsors cut ad budgets across retail, consumer goods, automotive, financial and other sectors. Companies will continue to divest their non-core assets, but those that don’t get a good price will prefer to hold on rather than sell at bargain prices. Bolt-on deals will likely be popular for risk-averse companies, so deals below $1 billion — mostly small and mid-market companies — will be a rising trend. Private equity will remain quiet since the debt markets aren’t really healthy yet. Deal structures will change this year, given the difficulty of getting debt financing. The strategic rationale for doing a deal will be more important than getting a favorable capital structure.

But all hope is not lost, according to PWC’s Transaction Services Entertainment & Media Leader Thomas Rooney:

With M&A activity ingrained in the DNA of so many companies and the ever growing presence of private equity, E&M deal activity might not be as quiet as many expect in 2009… History has shown the E&M industry to be one of the more active M&A sectors irrespective of market and economic conditions.

NBC’s super ad sales

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NBC’s sports department is having quite a year. We all know about the Olympics, but now it appears they are raking in money for the 2009 Super Bowl.

The broadcaster said yesterday that it has sold 85 percent of its commercial time for the game — and a dozen spots have gone for $3 million.

It’s worth remembering that there was some snickering when word spread that NBC wanted to sell time for $3 million. I mean, come on! $3 million? In this economy?