Icahn to have strong say in revamped studio

MGM’s debtholders have overwhelmingly approved a plan to reorganize the hobbled studio through a prepackaged bankruptcy that will leave Spyglass Entertainment toppers in charge — and give Carl Icahn a strong say in the revamped Lion.

MGM issued a brief statement late Friday afternoon confirming that the lenders had backed management’s reorganization plan.

“MGM will now move expeditiously to implement that Plan, which will dramatically reduce its debt load and put the Company in a strong position to execute its business strategy,” the statement said. “MGM is appreciative of the lenders’ support.”

But the plan’s been altered significantly from what had been proposed three weeks ago, several sources close to the situation said. Icahn, who holds over 10% of MGM’s debt, backed a revised reorganization that guarantees him a seat on the MGM board, removes Spyglass library from the deal and significantly reduced the Spyglass stake from the 5% level.

It’s expected that the storied studio — now a shell of its former self with $4 billion in debt — will file for bankruptcy shortly. It will probably take about 30 days to complete that process, after which Spyglass principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum will be in charge of an MGM that will produce a slim slate of films while beefing up its TV operations.

The plan wipes out the equity in the company from the 2005 buyout of MGM from Kirk Kerkorian. Lionsgate and Icahn had joined forces in offering a rival plan that would give debtholders 55% of the combined company in a deal valued at about $1.8 billion in stock and debt.

Given that Icahn’s the largest Lionsgate shareholder with 33%, speculation’s likely to emerge that the billionaire takeover artist will continue to push for an MGM-Lionsgate combination.

MGM’s seventh forebearance on debt payments was due to expire Friday but approval of the reorganization plan by the debtors eliminates that obligation.

The new MGM will be a debt-free operation that will put much greater emphasis on developing programming — scripted and reality — for cable TV, sources familiar with planning for the Lion said (Daily Variety, Sept. 9).

The studio was put up for sale a year ago but failed to draw bids that were high enough to satisfy the creditors, including a $1.5 billion offer from Time Warner. MGM’s assets include the James Bond franchise and half of “The Hobbit” films, its name and logo, the United Artists operations, a library with more than 4,000 titles and a bare-bones film and TV operation.

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