Officials of Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. are scheduled for a close encounter with Wall Street financial analysts today.
Columbia Pictures President and chief executive officer Alan J. Hirschfield confirmed the company plans to go ahead with its scheduled session before the New York Society of Security Analysts in what will be the first public appearance of company executives since the suspension, reinstatement and subsequent resignation under fire last week of studio chief David Begelman.
The session will represent an effort on the part of the company to demonstrate that it has not been immobilized by the scandal surrounding Begelman who admitted financial improprieties involving $60,000 of Columbia funds.
To shift some of the scrutiny away from the Begelman affair and how it was handled by Hirschfield and the company's board. Columbia plans to release its second-quarter financial results before the noon session.
Columbia attorneys also were working feverishly yesterday to complete an official 8-K filing for the Securities and Exchange Commission describing what was involved in the Begelman defalcations, so that it also will be ready before the analysts' meeting.
Wall Street analysts expect earnings for Columbia's second quarter (which ended Dec. 25) to be near $1 a share, more than triple the 31 cents a share, or $3.4 million, in net income registered in the same quarter in 1976. And there will be an additional non-recurring gain of $1.10 a share, or $9.7 million, from the sale of Columbia's leasehold on its Fifth Avenue New York headquarters building.
Columbia's profits on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the flying saucer epic that is currently the hottest grossing movie in America, will be reflected only marginally in the second-quarter results because it did not break in theaters across the country until early December.
Columbia reported yesterday that "Close Encounters" has grossed a record-breaking $72.4 million in its first 8 weeks of national release.
Wall Street financial analysts who specialize in the entertainment industry journeyed to Los Angeles last week for their annual meeting with each of the major hollywood studios, Columbia, which had been scheduled to participate, withdrew prior to the sessions because the uproar over Begelman's reinstatement was then at full tilt.
The analysts are expected to address the Begelman affair head on today, asking company officials about reports that the matter created a deep - and possibly irreperable - split between Hirschfield and certain key board members who are also sizeable Columbia shareholders.
Hirschfield supposedly wanted Begelman to step aside but was overruled by the board members who urged his retention because of his contribution to Columbia's financial turnaround. Whether Begelman finally resigned voluntarily due to mounting pressure or was pushed into his decision is still not clear.
The question of a successor to Begelman, who was head of the company's movie and television divisions, is also sure to come up, as well as the terms of Begelman's proposed consulting arrangement with Columbia.
"I don't think there necessarily will be one man who takes over what Begelman was doing," Hirschfield said in a telephone interview. He indicated Columbia may restructure the management of its film and television divisions, the main units of the company, splitting responsibility among several individuals.
"The talent hunt is just beginning" for successors, Hirschfield added, with "a lot of alternatives both within and outside the company." He indicated that studio production chief Daniel Melnick will continue in that post for the time being, despite some reports that he is planning to switch soon to become an independent producer.
Besides Hirschfield, Columbia officials scheduled to appear before the analysts include Chairman Leo Jaffe Joseph A. Fischer senior vice president for finance; and Alan Adler, senior vice president for corporate development.