July 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

James Bond studio MGM is exploring a sale. So who’s buying?

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, the film and TV company behind the James Bond movies, is exploring a sale a decade after the company exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Beverly Hills-based studio, which also controls franchises such as Rocky and TV shows including “The Voice,” is working with advisors to find a buyer hungry for its robust film and television library, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment.

The search for a deal begins as demand for content surges among streaming services battling for subscribers and advertising dollars. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the company has engaged Morgan Stanley and LionTree Advisors to begin the formal sale process.

MGM declined to comment.

MGM has been a perennial subject of deal speculation as the entertainment industry consolidates into a handful of dominant players.

The biggest film and TV studios are either owned by telecom or technology giants, such as AT&T Inc. (which owns WarnerMedia) and Comcast Corp. (parent of NBCUniversal), or they’re transforming themselves into streaming businesses, as Walt Disney Co. has done. Apple and Amazon are moving further into the movie and TV business, and Netflix continues to grow its Hollywood clout amid the pandemic.

Smaller players such as MGM and Santa Monica-based Lionsgate are struggling to compete as COVID-19 prevents them from releasing their big movies in theaters. MGM, for example, decided to push the next James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” from November to April.

New York hedge fund Anchorage Capital Group, MGM’s largest shareholder, has come under pressure to pursue an exit through a sale. MGM has operated without a chief executive for two years since the ouster of CEO Gary Barber, who was previously agitating for a deal.

Apple and Amazon have previously been pegged as potential buyers, but MGM’s valuation has long been seen as a sticking point. Anchorage CEO Kevin Ulrich, as chairman of MGM’s board, had wanted a price of at least $7.5 billion, according to industry insiders. The studio’s market value is about $5.5 billion including debt, said one person familiar with the company’s finances who was not authorized to comment.

An Anchorage spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The storied company filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and emerged with a reorganization plan to wipe out $4 billion in debt. Anchorage, Highland Capital Partners, Davidson Kempner Capital Management and Owl Creek Investments each owned more than 10% of outstanding shares of common stock in MGM as of Sept. 30.

MGM’s library includes 4,000 movies such as “Robocop,” “The Pink Panther” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Its scripted TV division is responsible for “Fargo,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Vikings.”

But it’s unclear how interested a global media company or tech titan like Apple is in paying for a movie and TV library when most companies are focused on building their Hollywood businesses through original productions, creating so-called walled gardens.

A deal may not come from traditional media and entertainment players. The Journal reported that the company is also interested in offers from private equity firms or blank-check companies known as SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) that have become increasingly popular on Wall Street as an alternative way for firms to go public. Or a deal may not come about at all.

With speculation swirling, MGM has done some eye-catching film deals to bulk up its production slate for 2021 and beyond, setting up a pact to produce Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer” and remaking its Orion Pictures label to focus on diverse filmmakers and stories.

Moving “No Time to Die” denied MGM potential revenue this year from a franchise that does most of its business outside the U.S., which has been harder hit by the pandemic. But analysts say having a Bond movie in the can could help draw more interest from buyers than if the movie had already been released.