Studio completes restructuring with $500 million in financing

Leo the Lion is coming back to life with MGM’s restructuring plan becoming effective, fresh with $500 million in funding to revamp the storied studio.

The company, which made the announcement Monday, said MGM’s secured lenders are exchanging about $5 billion, including accrued interest and fees, for most of the equity in MGM.

Spyglass Entertainment toppers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum will serve as co-chairmen and CEOs.

“MGM is emerging from one of the most challenging periods of its storied history,” the duo said. “We are honored and inspired at the opportunity of leading one of Hollywood’s most iconic studios into its next generation of unforgettable filmmaking, global television production and distribution, and aggressively pursuing, developing and exploiting new digital entertainment platforms.”

MGM, which has released only one film this year, received approval on Dec. 2 from a bankruptcy court judge of its “pre-packaged” plan of reorganization. The plan wipes out the equity interest of MGM’s current owners, the Sony-led consortium that bought it in 2005 in a $4.8 billion leveraged buyout — which left the studio with a crushing debt load.

MGM dates back to 1924. Its assets include the Leo the Lion logo, the United Artists brand, a 4,000-title library and ownership of the James Bond, Pink Panther and “Rocky” series, as well as half-ownership of the upcoming “Hobbit” films.

“Beginning today, MGM is a stronger, more competitive company, with a solid financial foundation and a bright future,” Barber and Birnbaum said. “We look forward to working with MGM’s dedicated employees to build upon this company’s legacy.”

MGM said in the announcement that JPMorgan arranged the $500 million in exit financing to fund operations, including production of a new slate of films and television series. It had disclosed in recent bankruptcy filings that it had planned to cut the staff to about 320 from more than 400 but a spokeswoman has indicated that the number of cuts will be significantly smaller.

About 45 employees, mostly in distribution and marketing, were pinkslipped Friday.

MGM put itself up for sale in November, 2009 but a trio of offers fell far short of its target. It filed for the “prepackaged” bankruptcy on Nov. 3 after months of negotiations with creditors for a restructuring to let it shed more than $4 billion of debt.

Carl Icahn, who owns about 14% of MGM’s debt, agreed to support the plan after it was revised to exclude titles from the Spyglass library – a move that reduced Barber and Birnbaum’s stake in the new MGM from 5% to less than 1%. Icahn’s also been given a board seat.

Board members include a trio of reps who were part of the creditors committee — Patrick H. Daugherty of Highland Capital Management, Christopher Pucillo of Solus Alternative Asset Management and Kevin Ulrich of Anchorage Capital Group. MGM has also tapped MySpace co-president Jason O. Hirschhorn and former CBS chief financial officer Frederic G. Reynolds as directors along with Barber and Birnbaum.

MGM isn’t expected to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection officially for several more months.

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