1. Len Blavatnik eyes a starring role for MGM in his media empire

    By Devin Zydel on 2010-03-15

    Financial Times – Len Blavatnik, the entrepreneur, has signalled his intention to combine his media investments with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the Hollywood studio being sold by its lenders.

    Mr Blavatnik, who owns Access Industries, the US-based industrial group, told the Financial Times the studio “could be a good platform to expand our current assets . . . At the right price, it’s a great property.”

    The studio, which produced Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, has fallen on hard times since being acquired in 2005 by a Sony-led consortium for $5bn (£3.3bn).

    Initial bids for MGM have been low, and the sale is not expected to attract offers much higher than $1.5bn when final bids are made on Friday.

    The value of its film library, the largest in Hollywood, has been hit by falling DVD sales, while plans to re-establish the studio as a production force ran aground when it failed to raise sufficient funds to make a slate of new titles.

    But the studio remains attractive to buyers. It owns the James Bond catalogue and has the right to make future Bond films. It is developing a film version of The Hobbit.

    Mr Blavatnik faces competition from Time Warner, which is flush with cash after spinning off its cable business, and Relativity Media, the production and finance group backed by Elliott Associates, the hedge fund.

    Mr Blavatnik said he wanted to build a “media platform for the 21st century”.

    His other media investments include a controlling stake in Top-Up TV, the UK media group, and a stake in Warner Music. He acquired the UK operations of Icon, Mel Gibson’s film company.

    Revenues from media were “minuscule” compared with the rest of the Access portfolio, Mr Blavatnik said. “But in three to five years I would like to have more media and telecom assets than I do now, particularly in digital.”

    Access owns Lyondell-Basell Industries, the chemicals company seeking to emerge from bankruptcy, as well as stakes in TNK-BP, the oil group, and UC Rusal, the aluminium producer controlled by Oleg Deripaska.

    Mr Blavatnik is aware of the industry’s reputation for parting new investors from their money.

    “It concerns me very much . . . I don’t want to be the next victim,” he said.

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