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Toronto: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Fueling Lionsgate Bullishness

Sequel set to open Nov. 22

With Lionsgate stock hitting another record high, CEO Jon Feltheimer sounded a bullish outlook for prospects for its “Hunger Games” franchise at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Toronto.

During his brief remarks, Feltheimer singled out strong performance by Coldplay’s single “Atlas,” released four days ago as part of the soundtrack for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” He noted that song is now number one in 38 countries on the iTunes platform; a Lionsgate rep said later Tuesday that the number had increased to 56 countries.

Lionsgate stock, which has increased five-fold in value during the past two years, gained 57 cents or 1.6% to $37.46 in  trading Tuesday. Shares have hit more than two dozen record highs this year with Wall Street analysts optimistic that Lionsgate can expand its TV business and create a new movie franchise with “Divergent.”

The studio will begin selling advance tickets for the sequel, starring Jennifer Lawrence, on Oct. 1. Wall Street analsyts have predicted that “Catching Fire” will top $900 million in worldwide grosses after it opens Nov. 22 — far above $691 million box office for the first “Hunger Games.”

Feltheimer also stressed during the meeting, held on the sixth day of the Toronto Film Festival at the Shangri-La Hotel, that Lionsgate remains committed to exploiting its content on the fast-changing universe of digital platforms — and that as a “pure play” content company, it can react with more flexibility than the six Hollywood major studios.

The exec also touted the successes of Spanish-language movie “Instructions Not Included” and “Let Me Explain,” the Kevin Hart stand-up comedy film, as recent examples of Lionsgate’s willingness to expand into under-served markets.

“Instructions,” part of Lionsgate’s Pantelion venture, has topped $20 million in two weekends in the U.S. and appears headed to beat the record of $37 million for a Spanish-language film, a mark currently held by “Pan’s Labyrinth.” “Let Me Explain,” part of the company’s Codeblack venture, has topped $32 million with plans for Hart to star in another film that will start shooting in January.

During the 20-minute meeting, Lionsgate also disclosed that it had promoted Kevin Beggs to the chairmanship of the TV group with a five-year contract, noting that TV operations (including “Mad Men” and “Nashville”) generated $400 million in revenues  last year.

Feltheimer and vice chairman Michael Burns also said that the company plans to continue reducing the debt on its balance sheet rather than seeking status as a major studio.

“What’s important to us in building shareholder value,” Burns added. “We don’t want to do anything stupid.”

Burns, who was responding to a question from a sharholder, said any future would be “accretive.”

Lionsgate has built itself on acquisitions plus internal growth, most recently its $412 million buyout of Summit at the start of last year when its stock was trading at $8.60. Its earnings ofr its first quarter ended June 30 were $13.6 million, or 10 cents a share with revenues jumping  21% to $569.7 million.

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