1. USA Today: "Sony-led group near purchase of MGM studio"

    By Guest writer on 2004-06-18

    NEW YORK – After a series of near misses, a Sony-led consortium is in the final stages of acquiring Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $5 billion, people with direct knowledge of the talks say.

    The Japanese electronics and media giant and private equity partners plan to pay $13 for each share of MGM plus the assumption of debt. The parties expect to announce the deal before MGM’s annual meeting on June 29. MGM shares closed Thursday at $12.17, off 8 cents.

    The sale of MGM would mark another milestone for 87-year-old billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who owns 75% of the last major independent film studio. Earlier this week, Kerkorian placed a huge bet on the future of the Las Vegas hotel and gaming industry by sealing a deal to buy Mandalay Resort Group for $4.8 billion.

    Kerkorian has seen the fortunes of MGM revive in recent years and feels it is an opportune time to cash out. MGM CEO Alex Yemenidjian has embraced a strategy of making low-cost movies that spawn low-cost sequels, such as the Barbershop and Jeepers Creepers films. MGM’s recent offerings include art house hit Pieces of April and a sequel to Agent Cody Banks.

    Howard Stringer, head of Sony’s U.S. business, is eager to expand his entertainment assets by buying MGM’s coveted 4,000-plus film library, which includes the Pink Panther and Rocky franchises, as well as Annie Hall, Midnight Cowboy and West Side Story.

    Sony held preliminary talks with MGM two years ago but failed to agree on price. Time Warner and NBC Universal have also expressed interest, but neither media company has made a bid for the 80-year-old studio, best known for its roaring lion logo and James Bond films. Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons has told friends he regards the $5 billion price tag as excessive.

    But Paul Kim, media analyst for Tradition Asiel Securities, believes Parsons should take a run at MGM. “Cable networks, cable systems and libraries are the three things that Parsons would like to buy,” Kim says.

    NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright has also made overtures to MGM bankers Goldman Sachs. But Wright is still digesting the recent merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment into the world’s sixth-largest media company.

    Barring a last-minute counter bid, Sony and partners Texas Pacific Group and Providence Capital would provide $1.5 billion in equity financing. Additionally, Sony banker Credit Suisse First Boston would provide $3.5 billion of debt financing. CSFB’s DLJ Merchant Banking might also chip in some cash.

    MGM, NBC and Time Warner declined comment Thursday. Sony did not return calls for comment.

    By Thor Valdmanis and Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY

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