Street unimpressed with Digital Domain IPO

High-profile projects not always enough for investors

Digital Domain is finding out that powerful Hollywood investors like Michael Bay and high-profile projects like "Speed Racer" nowadays don't amount to much on Wall Street.

The special-effects house tried last week to go public, offering 6 million shares priced around $13 apiece, though the IPO was met with healthy skepticism.

On Monday, Digital Domain CEO Mark Miller said the company may now make use of private equity to remain private. "Interest in Digital Domain’s IPO was actually quite high -- sufficient to have allowed us to complete our IPO at an attractive valuation. More importantly, the road show made the company visible to the broader financial community, and we stimulated interest from a different mix of investors. We received offers from private equity firms that exceed the amount we were seeking to raise with the IPO. We're very pleased with these offers, and we're taking time to evaluate them," he said.

"Right now," he continued, "the status is that we are leaning toward remaining private, but we are leaving the option of an IPO open while we consider all of the options."

Hints that the IPO is a tough sell can be found in the prospectus, the key line being: "Since 2004, we have been unable to generate revenues sufficient to be profitable."

Indeed, in 2007 the company lost $19.9 million.

Bay, through his investment firm Wyndcrest Holdings, purchased Digital Domain two years ago with the goal of turning it into "an effects powerhouse."

The man behind such blockbusters as "Transformers" and "Armageddon" also wants Digital Domain to make video games and even compete with Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation by taking some ownership in the films it makes.

But Digital Domain acknowledges that making money in these endeavors is no easy task. In its prospectus, it calls the VFX and animation industry "very competitive," while the video game industry is "intensely competitive."

So far, it seems that the company, which is seeking to raise $68 million in its IPO, has set too lofty a goal at a time when Wall Street prefers profits to potential.

But if the IPO is being repriced or pulled, it's being kept a secret. Several calls to Digital Domain and its underwriters, Thomas Weisel Partners and Oppenheimer, went unreturned Friday.
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