Set To Move On Midway?

By Gene G. Marcial

For most people, food tops their shopping list. For billionaire Sumner Redstone, it's a stock: Midway Games (MWY ). "I buy shares of Midway almost every day," says the Chairman and CEO of entertainment giant Viacom (VIA ). As of Nov. 1, Redstone himself owned 63.3 million shares. That's 75% of the maker of software for video games, played on platforms like PlayStation (R)2, Xbox, and Game Boy. Mortal Kombat is its No. 1 game. Redstone has paid as much as 13 for the stock. Now at 9.78, Midway was featured in this column on July 29, 2003, when it was at 4.52.

The $25 billion game business is "the fastest-growing in entertainment," notes Redstone, and it "will compete with TV -- for audiences and ads." So the networks "need to be in it," he argues. The talk is that he'll take Midway private -- or that Viacom or another company will acquire it. In August, Viacom formed a committee of independent directors to evaluate all possible deals with Midway. Although the Street is down on the stock, one insider sees it hitting 20 in two to three years -- just on fundamentals. Redstone says analysts still view Midway as the old company -- before ex-Disney (DIS ) and ex-ESPN exec David Zucker took over as CEO in mid-2003. He credits Zucker for turning around Midway -- after five years in the red. Zucker says Midway, rated No. 1 in quality by industry reviews, will post a profit in the fourth quarter. He won't comment on 2005. He has inked deals with studios to make movies out of its games, possibly including a new Mortal Kombat sequel. Edward Williams of securities firm Harris Nesbitt -- neutral on the stock -- says Midway "doesn't trade on conventional valuation metrics." It "simply trades on what Redstone is willing to pay."

Note: Unless otherwise noted, neither the sources cited in Inside Wall Street nor their firms hold positions in the stocks under discussion. Similarly, they have no investment banking or other financial relationships with them.

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