Lions Gate Entertainment
The company was quick to tout its success with Madea's Family Reunion and the fact that the project built on the momentum of the multitalented Tyler Perry and his prior feature (also released by Lions Gate), Diary of a Mad Black Woman. About a year ago, the latter picture took in $21.9 million in its first weekend; the Madea film grossed slightly over $30 million in the domestic marketplace and sported a per-theater average of well over $13,000, easily placing it in the No. 1 position.
Lions Gate continues to impress me. The company has a knack for finding features that can resonate with the box-office consumer; more importantly, it can get those consumers through the thresholds of multiplexes across the country on the opening weekend. Dominating the market right out of the gate is vital; if a film can't do that, it can be very difficult -- if not impossible -- to get noticed the next weekend, because the audience usually moves on to the next new thing at the screens.
Big opening weekends usually drive all other ancillary channels, including the important DVD segment. In fact, the company's first sequel to its burgeoning franchise Saw -- aptly titled Saw II2 -- cut through the competition on the video shelves and moved 3.9 million copies in its first week of release, beating the first Saw's sales performance. You can bet that Madea's Family Reunion will also be a value-adding member of the Lions Gate DVD library when it is released to video.
None of this means that Lions Gate isn't having its short-term struggles. According to the latest earnings release, operational cash flow is down 29% for the nine-month period ended Dec. 31, 2005. Cash flow clocked in at $58.9 million, compared to $83.1 million in the comparable period a year ago; free cash flow as calculated by the company declined 32%. The movie business is expensive and cyclical; there will be soft spots, especially as preparations are made to pass the torch from prevailing technology (such as the DVD) to new technology (e.g. Blu-Ray). But with Lions Gate deftly competing with big guns Disney
Lions Gate shouldn't be used as a core holding, but rather a long-term vehicle for exposure to the movie business -- it's a riskier stock than, say, Disney. But judging by Madea's Family Reunion, the company knows how to market celluloid. If you love the movie business, this could be a fun one to own.
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