Artisan bids roll in

Non-binding offers top $100m at deadline

Artisan received a half-dozen or more non-binding bids to acquire the Gotham-based film and TV company by a Monday deadline.

It was believed one or more of the offers exceeded $100 million, with suitors now headed into due diligence. That’s when prospective buyers will get access to an Artisan “data room” filled with company financial documents.

The Monday “soft deadline” had been extended from a previous date last week. It’s likely even later offers for the company would be considered, if sufficiently lucrative for shareholders of the privately held company.

“This round is basically the ticket to the data room,” said a rep of one of the bidders. “Up to this point, potential bidders are normally given just enough information to whet their appetites but not enough to really gain any insight to the company.”

Wrapping by July

Due diligence is expected to last two to three weeks. Thereafter, a deadline will be set for final, binding bids, with the whole process potentially wrapping by mid-July.

A participant in the process previously suggested shareholders such as Canadian broadcaster CTV or Chicago investment firm Richland Gordon could decide against selling their stakes with only the Boston-based Audax firm — a 26% stakeholder — figuring in a transaction. But another source said Monday that an acquisition of all current stakes is the most likely outcome.

“I would be very surprised if any bids would come in for less than 100%, or if they did, that they would be acceptable,” said a rep of one bidder. “At least that’s what we’ve been led to believe. We’ve (also) been led to believe that cash is king in this process.”

That could mean that Lions Gate, the publicly traded film and TV company, will attempt an outright acquisition of Artisan rather than a stock-based offer. The Vancouver- and L.A.-based company already has lined up prospective backers of such a move.

Other Artisan suitors include groups of individual investors, some currently involved in entertainment.

Jaffe leads effort

Those include a group led by producer Stanley Jaffe and former USA Films exec Scott Greenstein. And former Warner Bros. exec Jim Miller is believed to be collaborating with a private equity group out of London.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether another intriguing partnership –involving Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and entertainment producer Todd Wagner — yet has made an offer for the company. Cuban’s current 8% stake in Lions Gate had at least one well-placed source suggesting he and Wagner ultimately could help finance a Lions Gate bid for Artisan.

A party close to the Lions Gate bid suggested that even those with separate designs on Artisan ultimately will approach the Canadian company about a merger with Artisan.

“The next stop for anybody who does try to make a run at Artisan is to put it together with Lions Gate –there’s no question,” the source said. “They’re mirror images of each other, and day one you would eliminate $20 million of overhead. You don’t need two accounting departments, for instance.”

Savings in combo

With Lions Gate generally thought to have a stronger theatrical department than Artisan, and Artisan boasting stronger homevid operations, it could also prove possible to collapse significant other infrastructure.

Current Artisan CEO Amir Malin could get squeezed in any Lions Gate-Artisan merger, with his best hope of retaining management control tied to the auction’s producing a mere minority-stake transaction. A former exec of now-defunct October Films, Malin joined Artisan in 1997 when the company was created from former homevid distrib Live Entertainment.

No major studio is believed to be seriously eyeing an Artisan acquisition. Such a move would rep a simple library acquisition — Artisan has a 3,500-title catalog — and would likely fall below current owners’ minimum selling range.

It’s believed the stakeholders will consider only offers in the $100 million range or above, and sources suggest such a price demands a “going concern” premium that wouldn’t be penciled into a bid based simply on library assets. Lions Gate previously floated an offer for Artisan of about $60 million that was dismissed out of hand as too low.

Virginia-based investment firm Harris Williams is managing the Artisan auction in association with Wall Street’s Allen & Co.

The process began with the distribution of several dozen Artisan briefing books earlier this month after the firms’ strategic review of the company resulted in a recommendation to sell at least a portion of the company rather than taking it public. Among the various Artisan stakeholders, Audax has been most interested in cashing out of its holdings, which date to 1999.

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