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COMPANY TOWN : 2 buyers close in on Playboy : They reportedly are in talks to acquire the entertainment business and take it private.

November 13, 2009|Ben Fritz

Hef may soon have a new boss.

Brand management firm Iconix Brand Group and a group led by Jim Griffiths, Playboy's former entertainment president, are both in talks to acquire "gentlemen's" entertainment company Playboy Enterprises Inc. and take it private for more than $300 million, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Both companies have been talking to Playboy management for about a year, the person said.

Any decision about a purchase will come down to Hugh Hefner, Playboy's founder and public face, who controls about 70% of its voting stock. A buyer would have to persuade Hefner not only to relinquish control of the company he started 56 years ago, but probably also to stay involved given his importance to the brand.

A spokesman for Playboy declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Iconix.

Chicago-based Playboy's stock price plummeted last fall to just above $1 a share as it struggled with challenges in several of its businesses, including adult pay television, print and digital content. Revenue has fallen in the first three quarters of the year, and the company has cut costs. It recently reduced the guaranteed circulation of its magazine to 1.5 million from 2.6 million.

Former Playboy Chief Executive Christie Hefner left in December.

Playboy's market capitalization was just $136.3 million on Wednesday, including a 42% jump in the share price caused by a report of Iconix's interest earlier in the day. As of Sept. 30 it had $26.9 million in cash and $103 million of long-term debt, which starts to come due in March 2012.

Rumors that Playboy could be acquired started in February, when former interim Chief Executive Jerry Kern said it would be open to offers.

In July, former Freedom Communications Inc. chief Scott Flanders took over as chief executive. Many on Wall Street had viewed Flanders' appointment as a sign Hugh Hefner wanted to revive the company rather than sell it.

"You have Scott Flanders in there, who is putting a new corporate strategy into effect to turn the company around," said Steve Marascia, director of research at Capitol Securities Management in Virginia.

Flanders said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that he wanted to grow Playboy by focusing on brand licensing and location-based entertainment, such as nightclubs.

That probably would be the plan as well for Iconix, which owns and licenses several well-known brands such as London Fog, Starter and Joe Boxer.

Griffiths, who was formerly president of Playboy's Entertainment Group, is working with San Francisco private equity firm Golden Gate Capital on his bid. If successful, it would see him take over the company as CEO and run it for Golden Gate, which would become the new majority owner.

Playboy shares rose $1.21, or 42%, to $4.07 on Thursday.


Greg Burns of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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