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U.K.’s Moss eyes Livent

Cablevision keeps edge on competish

NEW YORK — U.K. theater group Stoll Moss has joined the list of companies considering a bid for bankrupt theater concern Livent Inc., sources said Friday, although Madison Square Garden parent Cablevision Systems Corp. remains the favorite to win the auction.

And while the sale process is still in its early stages, people close to the deal say Livent could fetch anywhere from $80 million to $120 million, ensuring a hefty loss for the bondholders and a complete write-off for stockholders such as Michael Ovitz.

While several major companies are believed to have received a copy of the briefing book on Livent, including some of the Hollywood studios, people with knowledge of the sale said last week that Cablevision was the only company that has shown consistent interest in Livent since a sale was first mooted.

Cablevision has had a lawyer at most bankruptcy court hearings, sources said. Its investment banker, Bear Stearns, had signaled an interest in Livent well before the company filed for bankruptcy in November. Neither Livent nor Cablevision would comment.

The cabler already owns Madison Square Garden, Radio City Prods. (the production company associated with Radio City Music Hall) and the Clearview Cinemas chain of movie theaters in the New York area as well as cable systems in New Jersey, Long Island and parts of New York City. Livent would give it a newly renovated theater on 42nd Street and Broadway, as well as capacity to stage Broadway shows.

‘Pimpernel’s’ new home

That is something Cablevision would be keen on, a corporate insider said. The company invested $2 million in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” last July but has to move the show in June because it’s losing its current home — the Minskoff Theater — to the upcoming Robert Stigwood production of “Saturday Night Fever.”

Cablevision is negotiating to move the show to the Nederlander-controlled Neil Simon Theater though that deal is not yet done. Buying Livent’s Ford Center on Broadway would solve this problem and allow it to develop other Broadway productions, which insiders said was part of the company’s future plan.

Cablevision recently hired Caroline Rossi-Copeland to assist senior VP and “Pimpernel” exec VP Tim Hawkins in developing or acquiring new material for Broadway and other theatrical productions. The cabler has also considered co-producing an original musical with Henson Prods. starring Henson’s Muppet characters, insiders said, but the cabler’s lack of its own Broadway theater puts a kink in such plans.

For these reasons, Cablevision is seen as a much stronger strategic buyer than other companies also thought to be looking at Livent, which include Walt Disney Co., SFX Entertainment, Ogden Entertainment and Stoll Moss. The seriousness of the interest of these parties in Livent is not clear.

A Holmes a’Court company

Stoll Moss is controlled by the Holmes a’Court family of Australia, and its bid is spearheaded by New York-based Broadway producer Peter Holmes a’Court, managing director of Back Row Prods., sources said. Holmes a’Court declined comment Friday.

Whether his family wants to spend the money to get Livent is questionable. The Holmes a’Court family has been reportedly selling assets in Australia to reduce debt attached to its private company, which has a net worth of about $A200 million, according to Australian press accounts.

While Livent execs are sure to market the company as a vertically integrated theater concern, most outsiders who have looked at Livent say its only valuable assets are its theaters in New York, Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver. Livent put $125 million into these theaters, say people who have seen the information book, but bankers say the theaters would not fetch that amount now.

Still, the theaters would be worth $80 million at least, sources say, but observers said Friday that Livent was likely to fetch a little more and the price could get above $100 million if a buyer like Cablevision is looking to quickly wrap up a deal.

Few value for shows

Few observers ascribe much value to Livent’s shows and rights to past shows. Past shows are not like a film library, investment bankers say, because an old film can earn revenue indefinitely through television licensing deals but revivals of old shows hold no certainty of any revenue.

As for current shows, “Ragtime” in New York is beginning to fade while the Chicago production may close as early as this spring. Livent’s biggest cash cow, “Phantom of the Opera” in Toronto, is on its last legs and is scheduled to close in mid-2000, the company said in the information book.

Pining hopes on ‘Fosse’

Livent appears to be pinning all its hopes on “Fosse,” which opened to poor reviews but strong sales. How long sales last on this show is uncertain, however.

The company does have a couple of projects under development, such as “The Seussical” and “Pal Joey,” but observers question whether much value would be put on these developments given the high cost of mounting a production.

At a purchase price of, say, $100 million, Livent’s bondholders stand to be repaid about 27¢ on the dollar. First in line for repayment is CIBC and other lenders with mortgages over the theaters, owed a total of $41 million, while post-bankruptcy bailout lender Angelo Gordon is owed $25 million.

The bankruptcy puts more pressure on Livent to wrap up a deal than is usually the case in a corporate sale. The bailout funds from Angelo Gordon were designed to keep Livent afloat only for about six months, which means a deal has to be done and completed before May.

Investment bankers said that meant Livent would likely want to be negotiating seriously with a buyer well before that, to ensure it does not get squeezed.

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