Move to avoid Image-Lionsgate collision

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An ugly dispute between two leading film companies could be resolved on Tuesday when shareholders in Image Entertainment, a DVD distribution group, meet to vote on new board members.

Lionsgate, the company behind films including Crash, which won the Academy Award last year for Best Picture, is trying to get six nominees on the Image board after having built a 19 per cent stake in the group. Lionsgate is trying to win shareholder support for a management change after its hostile $4 a share offer for Image was rejected by the group’s board last year. It launched its board proxy fight after what it described as Image’s “abysmal” financial performance.

But its efforts to change the company’s management have been thwarted by the Image board, which has the backing of the group’s other leading shareholders.

A person familiar with the situation said it was likely Lionsgate would turn its attentions elsewhere if it lost Tuesday’s vote at the Woodland Hills Country Club in the San Fernando Valley.

Two of the group’s nominees – Duke Bristow and Barry Perlstein – have been endorsed by Glass, Lewis Co, the proxy voting advisory firm.

Glass, Lewis has also recommended that Image stockholders do not vote for any of Image’s nominees at Tuesday’s meeting. However, Image urged shareholders to support its own nominees.

Martin Greenwald, chief executive, said the group had a “solid history of delivering shareholder value and a proven track record of making decisions that are in the best interests of all our shareholders and the company”.

Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, told the FT that Image shareholders were “stuck with an entrenched management and a board that isn’t doing its job”. Image’s stance, he added, “rings of cronyism and entrenchment...they are treating a public company like a private company”.

Lionsgate is by far the larger company, with a market capitalisation of more than $1bn.

Image, meanwhile, has a market value of less than $100m.

Lionsgate has a track record in film production while Image is only beginning to produce films.

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