Friday, February 26, 2010

The MGM Conference Call

The bad news came in a non-public conference call this Monday (February 22nd) to the 140 banks and hedge funds holding nearly $4 billion in MGM debt. MGM CEO, Stephen F, Cooper, the turn-about specialist brought in to save the one-proud studio, revealed in the call that the secret numbers memo circulated to potential buyers in the confidential deal had been seriously inflated by MGM’s own over-optimistic estimate of its 201o television revenue. The memo, which had been sent out by Moelis & Company to solicit offers from potential buyers, stated that "Television distribution has generated over $500 million of Library cash receipts in each of the last four fiscal years ," estimating it would produce "$529 million" for fiscal 2010 (which ends March 31, 2010). A library is made of two components: DVD sales and the licensing of movies and TV series to pay channels, cable networks and broadcast television. So, with the DVD market collapsing in 2009, the stability of television revenue, as represented in the memo, was (at least until Monday) a key selling point to the remaining potential buyers– Time Warner, Lionsgate, John C. Malone’s Liberty Media, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media, Anil Ambini’s Reliance ADA Group, and Leonard Blavatnik's Access Industries.lain . Now, Cooper had stunning news. He told the 140 creditors that the library sales had been anything but stable, and plunged in the fourth quarter (so far) to the extent that the estimate had to be reduced by almost $30 million for that quarter. If annualized, that would amount to a decrease of about $120 million in revenue. Even worse, this severely reduces the value of the library since, as those in the business know, when MGM renews its multi-year contracts, the money it will get for aging product will drop precipitously.In MGM’s case, as I pointed out previously, a large part of these revenues must be split with "third parties." This includes producers, stars, directors, writers and Hollywood guilds, and, in 2009, amounted to over 40 percent of the total take.
The forbearance that MGM’s creditors extended to MGM in October runs out in 10 weeks so Cooper can sell it. Now all the remaining bidders will have to drastically recalculate, if not, reconsider. the amount they are willing to gamble. The Wall Street investors who put up most of the equity for the 2004 takeover have already seen their investment effectively wiped out. The suspense that remains in this Hollywood thriller is the degree to which the bond-holders will suffer the same fate. The bond holders cannot put the company in bankruptcy without jeopardizing the valuable remake rights to James Bond movie. So if the bidders pull out, or offer only pennies on the dollar, the only alternative open to the bond holders is to themselves take-over MGM by swapping their debt for equity– but this is not the Hollywood ending they want.
My book The Hollywood Economist is out today.