By Yi-Wyn Yen
March 13, 2008

By Yi-Wyn Yen

Its $1.9 billion bid to buy rival Take-Two (TTWO) having been rejected by management, video game giant Electronic Arts took its case directly to the shareholders Thursday morning.

At stake is the future of Grand Theft Auto, a relentlessly violent action-adventure that has grown into one of the most valuable video game franchises in the business. Earlier this week, Take-Two raised its sales estimates for the current quarter to $400-$500 million, based on pre-orders for the next version of the game, Grand Theft Auto IV, due out April 29.

With the new release just weeks away, EA (ERTS) wants to close a deal quickly. The company has been on a buying spree of late to replace its own aging franchises — such as the Madden Football series. It is offering Take-Two shareholders the same $26 a share that the company’s management had already turned down. Its offer is set to expire on April 11, the day after the Take-Two’s annual shareholder’s meeting — putting maximum pressure on the company’s leadership.

Take-Two executives have repeatedly said that $26 a share is too low, but their shareholders may disagree. Take-Two’s two biggest, Oppenheimer and Fidelity, have sold a significant portion of their shares for less, it was revealed earlier this week. Oppenheimer has cut 50% of its holdings to 8.8 million shares and now has an 11.5% stake in the company. Fidelity’s stake is now down to 2.75% from 14.7%.

“EA may have offered more if Take-Two had come to the negotiating table,” said Colin Sebastian, a gaming analyst with Lazard Capital Markets. “But there was no bidding war going on. EA thinks shareholders may be more favorable to the deal.”

“This is a great opportunity for Take-Two shareholders,” said EA chief executive John Riccitiello in a statement. “We believe Take-Two investors will see our tender offer as the best way to maximize the value of their investment.”

Shortly after, Take-Two urged shareholders to “take no action.” Take-Two’s board said it would review the offer and instruct shareholders of its decision within 10 days.

You May Like