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Lions Gate is hoping there's a sequel for its renewed independence

After fending off a hostile takeover bid and racking up a few hit movies, Lions Gate Entertainment seems safe
Lions Gate Entertainment looks to branch out into interactive gaming

After fending off a hostile takeover by investor Carl Icahn, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. needed a major hit.

Then came the "The Hunger Games," released in 2012. The film wound up No. 15 on the all-time U.S. box office list, according to the Internet Movie Database, grossing nearly $408 million.

In 2013, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" put Lion's Gate in the No. 10 spot on the same list with a U.S. gross of nearly $425 million.

Both movies ensured that Lions Gate, based in Santa Monica, would remain the last of its kind for at least a few years to come. That's a fully independent, publicly traded filmmaker, able to compete with the biggest studios in the industry.

Lions Gate began in 1997 in Canada, taking its name from the landmark Lions Gate bridge at the entrance to Vancouver Harbor.

In 2003, Lions Gate bolstered its California connection, buying Santa Monica-based Artisan Entertainment for $160 million. Three years later, the company sold its Canadian assets, including a film studio.

With successful movie franchises and television shows, the company is trying to extend its reach into other media platforms.

Takeover rumors were rampant from 2006 through much of 2011, but the only major effort came from Icahn, who once controlled more than 33% of the company's shares.

Lions Gate paid a price for the way in which it won the battle with Icahn. In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission levied a $7.5-million fine against Lions Gate for failing to properly disclose its role in a complex debt-equity swap in 2010 that helped it fend off Icahn's hostile takeover bid.

The company didn't make executives available to interview.

The latest

Lions Gate is moving into interactive gaming, saying this month it has formed a strategic partnership with Finnish games developer Next Games. Peter Levin, recently named Lions Gates' president of Interactive Ventures and Games, called gaming "a logical next step in extending our content portfolio."

Also this month, the company said it was working with Alibaba Group to launch Lionsgate Entertainment World, a subscription streaming service for mainland China.

In May, Lions Gate posted net income of $49.2 million for the its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended March 31, down from $163 million a year earlier. Revenue declined to $722 million from $786 million.

The company said that a number of operational markers improved in the quarter and for the entire fiscal year. It attributed the decline in net income and revenue to a fewer theatrical releases compared with the previous periods.

Accomplishments

In addition to the "Hunger Games" series, Lions Gate owns the rights to the popular "Twilight" saga because of its purchase of Summit Entertainment in 2012. Other notable cinema holdings include Tyler Perry's "Madea" movies, "Divergent" and the "Expendables" films.

Lions Gate also has more than 30 television shows on more than 20 networks, including the Emmy-winning "Mad Men" and "Nurse Jackie." A more recent addition has been the Netflix hit "Orange Is the New Black."

Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer recently told Wall Street analysts: "Our platform continues to become broader and more diversified, and our ability to generate repeatable income from our film franchises, television properties and library continues to grow."

Challenges

Lions Gate is smaller, less diversified and lacks the deep media conglomerate pockets of giants 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Sony-Columbia.

Through July 20, for example, Lions Gate had a 5.1% share of overall movie grosses in 2014, according to Box Office Mojo. Collectively, the top six studios — including Buena Vista, Universal and Paramount — took in more than 84% of box office grosses.

Analysts

Of 13 analysts that follow Lions Gate, three rate it a strong buy, eight consider it a buy and two suggest holding the stock.

Stan X. Myers, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., said the company "has benefited from a growing number of [television] outlets demanding new original content" from Lions Gate.

ron.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonWLATimes

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