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Summit investors considered major expansion before selling

01/13/2012 | -- Ben Fritz

Before deciding to sell the company to Lions Gate on Friday, investors in Summit Entertainment considered making a significant cash infusion that could have turned the "Twilight" studio into a much bigger entertainment player.

With the final "Twilight" movie ending this year, Summit's investors, who control about 70% of the studio, with the other 30% held by management, found themselves at a crossroads in late 2011.

"We were at a critical time in Summit’s development where either the company needed to expand into television and library acquisition and other media platforms so it was not singularly reliant on film, or take advantage of the very strong financial position the company was in [to sell]," said Jim Berk, chief executive of film production and finance company Participant Media, one of Summit's largest investors.

Berk said his firm and fellow investors, including private-equity fund operator Suhail Rizvi's Rizvi Traverse Management, were "prepared to inject more funds into the company to dramatically expand its operations."

Nala Investments chief Emilio Diez Barroso, another investor in the "Twilight" studio, said that in addition to well-known flirtations with buying Miramax films and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Summit also considered acquiring several other film libraries or international businesses to help it expand globally.

But beginning this fall, after Lions Gate's former top shareholder Carl Icahn, an opponent of management who made any acquisition very difficult, sold his stake, Summit found itself fielding purchase offers.

"Multiple folks preempted our ability to aggressively get into the marketplace to look at investments,"  Berk said.

Along with Lions Gate, other interested buyers included private-equity firm Colony Capital and a consortium of Chinese investors.

Colony, which wanted to merge Summit with its Miramax film library, ended up as the final bidder alongside Lions Gate in late 2011.

With the Lions Gate deal, Summit's investors get a payout of about $350 million in cash on top of a$200-million dividend they received early last year. They also get an equity stake said by insiders to be close to 5% in a company that combines Summit with Lions Gate's upcoming "Hunger Games" film series and its television and digital operations.

But things could have easily gone a different way.

"It's not that that the Lions Gate deal was more appealing," Diez Barroso said. "It was just the one that got to the finish line with the terms we were looking for."

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