Fortress, Thomas Lee, Content Partners among contenders

The “CSI” auction is under way.

Goldman Sachs, which recently put its 50% stake in the CBS drama franchise up for sale, received several bids for the property on Friday. Among the contenders are said to be investment firm Fortress, private equity firm Thomas Lee Partners and entertainment finance fund Content Partners.

Private equity firm Blackstone was also believed to be considering the property at one point, but a spokeswoman from the company denied that it had any interest in the asset.

Reps for Goldman Sachs, Fortress, Thomas Lee Partners and Content Partners declined comment.

Sources close to the discussions say that bids came in around $400 million. Goldman Sachs originally sought closer to $500 million (Daily Variety, Dec. 4).

Sources caution that Goldman is in no hurry to get a deal done and won’t let the asset go at a fire-sale price.

CBS, which owns the other half of “CSI,” controls production on the shows and all of the franchise’s distribution rights. Because it already has firm control of the property, CBS is not a contender for the Goldman stake. “CSI” steward Jerry Bruckheimer is a profit participant in the show but not an owner, so he will be unaffected by Goldman’s sale of its passive interest.

The three “CSI” series — “CSI,” “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY” — have been hugely profitable for its partners through domestic syndication deals and international licensing since the original series bowed in 2000 — and now digital licensing opportunities are providing another windfall. Goldman has owned a 50% interest in the shows since 2007, which it inherited through its acquisition of former “CSI” co-producer Alliance Atlantis.

The “CSI” sale marks an unusual opportunity for outside investors to own a piece of a top TV series franchise at a time when the growth of international and digital markets are boosting profits for high-end shows. The high pricetag that Goldman’s stake is expected to fetch underscores how sophisticated investors have become in evaluating the long-term projectable value of marquee film and TV assets.

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