Shingle, boosted by 'Ball,' beats forecast

Specialty shingle Lions Gate Entertainment says it’s on track to beat its own second-quarter financial forecasts when it reports earnings next month, no doubt thanks to the success of “Monster’s Ball,” for which star Halle Berry won the actress Oscar.

The Vancouver-based media group says its EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization charges) should come in a hefty 50% higher than last year’s mark of $2.7 million for the same period. Actual earnings figures will be released Nov. 13.

Company management also reaffirmed its expectation of “bottom-line profitability” and positive free cash flow for fiscal 2003, ending March 31. Perhaps more important, Lions Gate said it had made a sizable dent in its $200 million long-term outstanding debt balance by paying down an additional $12.7 million since the end of the first quarter.

Best known this year for distributing “Monster’s Ball” and showing strong interest in but then passing on box office sensation “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Lions Gate has had success distributing low-budget art films such as “Lovely and Amazing.”

Still, the company is only just settling into a stable management regime after years of high staff turnover and accusations of being top-heavy. (It had eight different presidents at one point.)

Of late, shingle has been flashy in its high-pricetag purchase of festival pics (including besting other hungry suitors in a bidding war for horror pic “Cabin Fever” and Steve James’ doc “Stevie” at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival), and in announcing forthcoming inhouse productions such as “Wonderland,” to star Val Kilmer, and “Godsend,” to star Robert De Niro.

But it remains to be seen whether its inhouse pics will help Lions Gate move up the ladder among specialty shingles vying for higher profiles. The recent spate of acquisitions and production activity is, at any rate, a higher-risk game.

“The investments we’ve made over the past 12 months have created a solid foundation for consistent profitability, ongoing debt reduction and the generation of free cash flow,” CEO Jon Feltheimer said in a statement.

In addition to its core feature production and distribution business, Lions Gate owns 63% of online video-on-demand company CinemaNow and 45% of Mandalay Pictures.

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