No. 44: MGM

Santa Monica, Calif.

Revenue: $1.14 billion

Profit: $51 million

The Lion in winter was mostly slumbering, but it sure doesn’t sleep tonight.

In fact, MGM is knee-deep into its biggest slate of movie releases in years, after effectively sitting out the previous holiday and summer box office seasons. But even that good news is offset a bit by the lingering notion the studio must secure distribution platforms beyond the local multiplex.

In April, MGM completed an $825 million deal to acquire a 20% stake in four cable channels operated by Cablevisions’ Rainbow Media. Lion chairman-CEO Alex Yemenidjian hopes the pact will lead to a broader relationship.

“Our investment in Rainbow is an opportunity to begin MGM’s vertical integration in a meaningful way,” Yemenidjian says, his fingers and toes no doubt mentally crossed for good luck.

Though no one doubts his desire to move the Lion into more than mere moviemaking, many say it’s unlikely the studio will substantially bolster skimpy TV and new-media operations that lack dedicated broadcast or cable outlets for its product.

Even the modest Rainbow deal required intervention from a higher power. Negotiations over a Cablevision-MGM partnership dragged on interminably until MGM majority owner Kirk Kerkorian rang up Cablevision topper Charles Dolan to suggest nailing down a smallish Rainbow investment to provide a starting point for possibly bigger things.

Still, MGM did post its first profitable year in its 77-year-history last year. And already this year, it’s bowed three films at No. 1, beginning with blockbuster sequel “Hannibal,” a co-production with Universal.

In June, MGM replaced longtime marketing and distribution prexies with a single exec, former Sony marketing boss Bob Levin. His first move was to resked the bow of John McTiernan’s “Rollerball” from August to early 2002.

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