Show me the money: 'bonds' let film stars collect future earnings

The joke about Hollywood marriages is that A-listers get hitched early in the morning. That way, if it doesn't work out, they haven't wasted the whole day.

It might seem unlikely, therefore, that some stars are hanging on in failing marriages because they cannot afford the lump sum divorce settlement. Yet this is exactly what one billionaire entrepreneur believes and it is why he has come up with a solution that allows stars to mortgage their future movie royalties.

Mark Cuban - who struck gold when he sold his business and is now the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team - is talking to several celebrities looking for payments of tens of millions of dollars. In return, they will give up rights to some or all of their profit share in blockbuster movies and long-running television shows.

It is an innovative financial wheeze that mirrors the launch in the Nineties of so-called "Bowie bonds" in the music industry, where singers and songwriters were able to cash in now rather than wait for a drip-drip of income over many years.

And it even threatens the delicate power balance between the big studios and their stars. According to some commentators, it could cast Mr Cuban in a new role as attack dog on behalf of actors who think they are not being given a fair share of movie profits.

Michael Sherman, a Hollywood entertainment lawyer, said that one of his clients was already considering the scheme, and that stars could find it attractive for a variety of reasons.

"They might need a big house, or a boat, or to fund a movie, for example. Or it could be for the purpose of valuing something for a divorce or a partnership dissolution or for estate planning."

Under California's divorce laws, which entitle a spouse to 50 per cent of the com-bined fortune, any split will probably be an actor's big-gest single one-time expense. Mr Cuban's new company, Content Partners, will pay out up to $25m (£13m) in return for 50-100 per cent of the artist's profit share from his or her work to date. That profit share, based on box-office receipts, DVD sales and television re-runs, can takes years to calculate.

Mr Cuban sold his basketball-over-the-internet company to Yahoo! for $5.7bn and bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000. Since then he has become one of the most controversial NBA team-owners in history, racking up more than $1m in fines for criticising the league and its referees.

The idea for Content Partners came after he stumped up a seven-figure sum to fund George Clooney's Oscar-nominated Good Night and Good Luck last year. Clooney could have funded the project more easily if he was able to cash in future profits from his earlier blockbusters. Mr Cuban's scheme is reminiscent of the "Bowie bonds" used in the music industry, but he has been trying to dampen the analogy. Named after David Bowie, who pioneered their use, the lesson from these bonds is that nothing in the entertainment industry is predictable. Bowie raised $55m up-front in 1997 when he parceled out rights to the next 10 years of royalties from his back catalogue.

But illegal downloading and file sharing sent CD sales into a tailspin - and the value of the bonds has followed.

Content Partners will not issue bonds that are tradable among other investors, and Mr Cuban says the company is more like a venture capital firm. It is betting that it can recoup more from studios over ten or more years than it pays upfront to the artist.

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