Owner of Penthouse on Bid for Playboy: I’d Leave Magazines Separate

Marc Bell tells TheWrap he plans to make an offer for Playboy Enterprises “in the next day or so”

Marc Bell, the chief executive of Penthouse and owner of the sprawling FriendFinder network, told TheWrap late Monday that he plans to make an offer to buy Playboy Enterprises “in the next day or so.”

Bell – who was referred to at least once as “The Next Hugh Hefner” — would not say what, specifically, that offer would be. “That’s what everybody wants to know,” he said in a phone interview from his Boca Raton offices. “At the end of the day, it’s about money.”

On Monday, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner sent a letter to the board offering to buy all of the common shares that he doesn’t already own – at $5.50 per share. (Hef already owns 69.5 percent of the company's Class A common stock and 27.7 percent of its Class B shares.) In making the bid, the 84-year-old icon said he has the backing of Rizvi Traverse Management, a little-known private equity firm.

Bell said that through FriendFinder – a business that generates more than $330 million annually — he would not need the help of a financial backer to buy the company. “We won’t have to worry about that,” he said.

He did say he would not merge Playboy and Penthouse magazines, if his bid was successful. “We’d keep them separate,” Bell said.

Asked if Hefner had called him about his threatened counteroffer, Bell had “no comment.”

After buying Penthouse in 2004, Bell tried to reposition the magazine less as hardcore, more general interest. (“Where (you) go when you graduate from Maxim,” Bell once described the makeover.)

In 2008, Bell and FriendFinder filed for a $460 million initial public offering, but the company has yet to follow-through on the I.P.O.

“We wanted to hold off,” Bell said, “until the market (is) stable.”

In 2007, Bell and his partners bought FriendFinder for $500 million, elbowing his way into the online adult market.