Success of 'Hunger Games,' Summit buy propel transaction

In one of the largest potential entertainment refinancings in recent years, Lionsgate is prepping to restructure up to $750 million in corporate debt, allowing the company to lower the interest rate on that debt.

Propelled in large part by the success of the “Hunger Games” franchise and Summit acquisition, Lionsgate is prepping to formally launch the refinancing next month at the earliest. At this point, sources caution that discussions are in their nascent stage.

JPMorgan, which has traditionally led the company’s deals, will most likely lead this one as well, according to sources familiar with the matter, and it’s highly probable that Wells Fargo or Bank of America and one other major financial institution will act as co-leads. They’ll be responsible for taking on the largest chunks of the deal, syndicating the rest out to smaller lenders.

The money isn’t exactly new, but it would be cheaper. Coin will first and foremost refinance Lionsgate existing $340 million senior facility that JPMorgan put in place in 2008. That facility — which has not been fully drawn — is set to expire next year.

Other potential uses include replacing more of Lionsgate corporate debt, which includes more than $400 million in high-yield notes. All told, the company will refinance somewhere north of $600 million on its books.

If the company took advantage of current competitive interest rates, it could reduce its interest expense by tens of millions of dollars annually.

The refinancing comes as no surprise to financial observers, who note that such a transaction is typical in advance of a loan’s expiration date and after a major acquisition.

And many companies outside of the entertainment industry are also looking to take advantage of better interest rates, which the Federal Reserve expects to stay low through late 2014. Lionsgate would seek a better price for its more expensive debt, which currently carries a 10.25% rate.

Lionsgate facility typically pays for general corporate operations and acquisitions, not film production, which the company usually funds on a single-picture basis. Company’s acquisitions have included the recent purchase of Summit as well as the TV Guide Network, Mandate Pictures and Artisan Entertainment.

Because of the size of the potential refinancing, financial observers say that most banks that lend to entertainment companies — which include City National Bank, RBC, Comerica, SunTrust and First Republic — would likely participate.

New deal would take advantage of projections for Lionsgate’s “Hunger Games” franchise, which has an installment unspooling in 2013. That, plus Lionsgate’s lucrative TV series “Mad Men” and “Nurse Jackie,” are expected to generate $900 million in EBITDA over the next three years, according to a May earnings call with CEO Jon Feltheimer. That number includes Lionsgate’s film library of more than 13,000 titles and 23 TV shows on 16 different networks, including Showtime’s “Weeds” and FX’s “Anger Management.” The film library generates approximately $150 million in cash flow annually.

The $900 million figure includes the next two “Hunger Games” films but does not include final installment “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2,” opening in 2015.

Other companies outside the studio world have completed large refinancings in recent years, but none quite comparable to Lionsgate’s proposed transaction. Village Roadshow, Legendary and New Regency, for example, have all assembled credit facilities in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but all were dependent on the worldwide distribution infrastructure of the major studios with which they each have deals.

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