Artisan Entertainment has announced that its seeking to raise $140m from its upcoming initial public offering and has applied to trade its shares on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol "RTSN". Merrill Lynch & Co., Bear Stearns & Co and ING Barings have been engaged as Artisan's IPO underwriters.

According to a preliminary prospectus filed Friday with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Artisan intends to use a portion of the net proceeds to repay $15 million of the company's 13.5% senior subordinated secured notes plus premium and accrued and unpaid interest. The rest, said Artisan, will be spent on general purposes including working capital, acquisitions and investments.

The filing does not say how many shares of common stock Artisan intends to offer, or how much each share will be priced at, once the company judges the climate to be right for going public. Artisan, which is now officially in its "quiet period", derived the provisional $140m figure as a basis for calculating the SEC registration fee.

Artisan's IPO, together with one currently being mulled by Canal Plus as a way of unlocking the value of its various content and digital subsidiaries, will be followed closely as potential bellwether stocks for entertainment companies with large libraries. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which boasts its own large stock-pile of Hollywood films, has seen its shares soar from a low of around $10 twelve months ago to the $22 region, valuing MGM at $3.4bn.

Artisan, which enjoyed its biggest success with The Blair Witch Project, has built up the largest independent feature film catalogue in the US, with 3,300 titles including Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Reservoir Dogs, Dirty Dancing, The Last Emperor, Total Recall, The Piano and the Rambo series that are primed for the DVD sell-through markets. It also holds the North American home entertainment rights to another 3,400 non-feature length titles, including a large volume of children's programming under its Family Home Entertainment brand.

Among Artisan's distribution ties are:

  • a US pay-TV deal with Showtime Networks,
  • an output deal with Hallmark Entertainment, covering all Hallmark, Crayola Presents and Cabin Fever product,
  • a video distribution deal with Discovery Networks which includes the Animal Planet and TLC brands,
  • a strategic 5% stake in the foreign sales outfit, Summit Entertainment,
  • and international output deals with the likes of Alliance Atlantis in Canada, Alliance Atlantis/Kinowelt in the UK, Highlight Communications in Germany and Lauren Films in Spain.