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Barrandov for sale

Czech studio may soon change hands

PRAGUE — While it’s not officially on the auction block, sources around Barrandov say the Czech film studio could be sold by the end of the year. A highly placed member of the board of directors of owner Moravia Steel says he has fielded some 25 calls from parties expressing interest in buying Barrandov.

Most of the conversations were cut short when the question of money was raised. But according to informed sources, three serious contenders remain. They include Nova TV, majority owned by Central European Media Enterprises (CME), and SPT Telecom, which holds a near monopoly position in telecommunications in the Czech Republic.

A press spokesman for Barrandov told Daily Variety, “The only thing I know is that on Dec. 30 there will be a meeting of the stockholders and news of who will be the new owner will be announced there.” However, a Moravia Steel spokeswoman said that meeting was only a “maybe,” adding, “We are waiting for a good offer.”

So far the interested parties have been from Czech concerns, although it is unclear if there have been any foreign partners backing them. The studio’s asking price could be a deterrent. “If you have $30 million, we can start talking,” said a Moravia Steel board member. However, another knowledgeable source thinks $30 million would be the very top price the studio could fetch.

Although operational costs show the studio in the black, other writeoffs put it on the debit side. The selling price would be just the startup price for running the studio.

In addition, any buyer also has to accept the government’s mandate which dictates Barrandov must continue to function as a film studio. While renting out studio space is a relatively painless way for Barrandov to keep its head above water, financing film productions is generally a losing proposition here. Moravia Steel management took over the studio last spring with much ballyhoo about supporting Czech film production. As one critic points out, those same ardent supporters of local films are the ones negotiating the sale of Barrandov now.

Moravia Steel could have an even more pressing need to sell Barrandov before the end of the year. According to sources, the steel company has to make its annual payment on a bank loan taken out in German marks — 120 million of them. Since the Czech crown began tumbling against world currencies this summer, their debt in local currency has increased by upwards of 25%, with further falling of the crown predicted.

Still, Moravia Steel’s board claims it could sell Barrandov tomorrow, but is in no hurry. As one member notes, the company has put out no tender announcing the conditions of sale, and it has no intention of doing so.

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