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Penthouse Owner Bids For Playboy

ANDREW VANACORE   07/15/10 02:40 PM ET   AP

Penthouse Playboy

NEW YORK — The owner of Penthouse magazine made a formal, competing bid for the Playboy empire Thursday despite founder Hugh Hefner's insistence that he does not intend to sell the company and instead wants to buy the shares he doesn't already own.

Penthouse corporate parent FriendFinder Networks Inc. said it will offer $210 million for Playboy Enterprises Inc. The bid comes just a few days after Hefner proposed to buy out those remaining shares and take the company private in a deal that would value the company at $185 million.

The catch: Hefner already owns nearly 70 percent of Playboy's voting shares.

"If he doesn't want to sell, there's no deal," RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank said.

In a statement, Playboy said its board will give FriendFinder's offer "appropriate consideration."

Playboy's stock price has tumbled since hitting a peak in 1999 of more than $32. It traded between $2.30 and $5.22 over the past year before jumping on news of Hefner's offer. It jumped 6 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $5.57 in afternoon trading Thursday.

The company's namesake magazine has struggled with competition from the Web, losing readers and advertisers. It has tried to make up for a declining print business by licensing its brand and the iconic bunny ears for consumer products.

Marc Bell, FriendFinder's CEO, believes his company can help build Playboy's brand online by directing traffic to it from the company's other websites.

In a letter to Playboy's board, Bell said he wants to keep Hefner in charge of the magazine. "We would propose an arrangement where we would partner with Mr. Hefner in our efforts to drive shareholder value," he said.

It's not clear why Hefner wants to buy the remaining shares and take the company private. In a letter to Playboy's board, Hefner said he worries about the editorial direction of the magazine and its legacy. At 84, he still serves as creative director and editor-in-chief.

Hefner said his potential partner in the offer, private equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management LLC, is confident it can get the necessary financing. It would cost them about $123 million to buy the stake Hefner doesn't own.

It could be that Hefner "simply sees an undervalued asset and may be unwilling to wait for the market to recognize the value he perceives," Bank said.

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Filed by Katherine Thomson  |