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Epic library battle looms

NEW YORK — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Walt Disney Co. and Polygram Holdings are among a large group of companies exploring the purchase of the Epic group of film libraries, now being auctioned by the French government agency CDR.

Companies last week submitted expressions of interest in buying the 1,000-title library and sources said interest was strong. Among the companies thought to be interested in the catalog — in addition to MGM, Disney and Polygram — are Live Entertainment, Carlton Communications and Pearson.

About 12 companies have been invited to move into the second round of the sale, which involves due diligence investigation of the library and is expected to take several weeks. Three “data rooms,” with info on the licensing contracts on the library’s titles, have been set up in L.A. for the use of potential buyers, sources said.

Collection of titles

The library, which is expected to fetch $150 million to $200 million, is a collection of titles inherited from independent film companies such as Epic, De Laurentiis and Hemdale that owed money to French bank Credit Lyonnais and transferred the libraries to the bank to settle their debts.

CDR was formed in 1995 to hold and eventually sell various assets inherited by Credit Lyonnais. The biggest such entertainment asset, MGM, was sold last year.

MGM is now seen as a leading buyer for the library because the Lion has built up an enormous film library that could be further enhanced with this deal. MGM has 3,639 titles in its library, including titles in the Orion catalog, far bigger than the next biggest libraries owned by Warner Bros. and Sony. People close to MGM confirmed the Lion’s interest in the Epic library but an MGM spokesman declined to comment.

On the other hand, MGM’s existing ownership of a big library may make it less likely to strongly pursue the Epic deal, Wall Streeters said. In contrast, Polygram, which has looked at and passed on several film acquisitions in the past few years, may be more motivated to buy the library because of its size.

Polygram is usually very conservative about the price it bids in auctions, however. A Polygram spokeswoman declined comment.

Disney’s interest may signal that the House of Mouse wants to beef up its relatively small library, which has only about 450 titles. A Disney spokesman declined comment.

The library’s titles include worldwide video rights on Castle Rock films such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers,” “Misery” and “Malice,” which were inherited from Nelson Entertainment, which had helped finance the pics. The bulk of the library is not A pictures, however.

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