Lionsgate Sought Deal Talks With Sony Hacked Emails Reveal

Are the folks at Lionsgate ready to cash out? Few have thought so as the independent studio reveled in the success of blockbuster movies including The Hunger Games and TV hits such as Mad Men– and laid out ambitious growth plans for film, television, and digital. But the impression may change — and shares are up 1.6% in early trading — after the latest bunch of hacked emails to surface from Sony indicate that Lionsgate approached the Japanese company last summer looking for a deal.

Lionsgate execs wanted to meet Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai and “toss around ideas about a possible merger or acquisition,” according to an August 20 email from Sony Corp. of America President Nicole Seligman to her boss, SCA chief Michael Lynton, which Reuters initially reported. Seligman was recounting a communication to her from Third Point’s Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager who lobbied Sony last year to spin off a minority stake in its entertainment businesses — a proposal that Hirai rejected.

Seligman added in her email that she told Loeb she’d “pass this along to Kaz, obviously noncommittally. Dan said he would not be involved in any discussions we might have.” She also noted that her communication with the CEO included “my assumption that we all agree this likely isn’t a priority. He is on his way to Geneva for a conference. No one will even think about how to handle until next week.” (Loeb is an investor in Variety with Deadline’s parent company, PMC.)

Lynton responded that it would be “very disruptive” if the Lionsgate “stuff gets out.”

Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns approached Hirai and Seligman directly in a September 6 email where he suggested a meeting. “We remain very intrigued with the possibility of working together,” he wrote.  Hirai turned a cold shoulder in an email 12 days later : “Given our entertainment business strategy, I don’t believe a meeting with me would be fruitful or a good use of your time,” he wrote. Still, he added, “we are always interested in the possibility of smart collaboration between studios at the operating level.”

Wall Street has long believed that Lionsgate would be an attractive takeover target, if management wanted to sell. But potential bidders seemed to be limited to a transaction with co-Chairman Mark Rachesky, who’s interested in selling at least part of his 51 million shares, 37.4% of the total. Dalian Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin, who controls AMC Entertainment, recently said that he’s engaged in early-stage talks for a minority stake in Lionsgate.  Rachesky also has talked with Chinese e-retailer Alibaba, which is flush with cash after its record-setting $25B IPO this year. This summer the two companies launched their Chinese subscription streaming service, Lionsgate Entertainment World, which features the studio’s movies and TV shows.

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