Weinstein Co. close to sale for less than $500 million

Weinstein Co. is nearing the end of a sale process in which the embattled independent film studio could go for less than $500 million and its shareholders may lose all of their equity, said people close to the discussions.

Following a Dec. 22 deadline that saw about 20 offers come in, Weinstein Co.'s owners and board of directors have narrowed down a list of potential buyers to six, the people said.

The bidders include a group led by businesswoman Maria Contreras-Sweet; production company Killer Content working with philanthropist Abigail Disney; studio Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; and investment firms Vine Alternative Investments and Shamrock Capital Investments.

The bids have topped out close to $500 million, roughly half of which would be the assumption of debt, the people said.

With operating expenses and legal bills mounting for Weinstein Co., the studio's current owners would receive no cash from a sale at that price, the people added. In addition to co-chairman Bob Weinstein and his brother Harvey, who was fired in October following allegations of sexual assault and harassment, Weinstein Co. investors include advertising giant WPP Group (NYSE:WPP), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS), and Japan's SoftBank Group Corp.

Some of the bidders are interested only in certain assets such as the studio's television production company, which makes "Project Runway" and the coming series "Waco" and "Yellowstone" for Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Network, and its library of independent films such as "The Imitation Game" and "Django Unchained."

Ms. Contreras-Sweet's group sent a letter indicating that it would keep the studio intact and operating with many of its current 157 employees; it is unclear whether other bidders have offered such assurances.

Other entertainment companies considered trying to buy certain assets but aren't among the final bidders, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB), and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., said people with knowledge of the matter.

Investment bank Moelis & Co. is handling the sale process.

Weinstein Co. has been in a state of limbo since accusations against Harvey Weinstein, who has denied allegations of nonconsensual sex, began mounting this fall. It has a number of films whose release plans have been temporarily shelved until the studio's future is determined, including drama "Current War," comedy "The War with Grandpa" and a remake of French hit "Intouchables" starring Kevin Hart.

Weinstein Co. in November sold domestic release rights to "Paddington 2" to Time Warner Inc.'s (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros., netting about $15 million to help keep it afloat. The family film comes out next week.