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Icahn, Dish, liquidators vie for Blockbuster

NEW YORK — Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, Dish Network and a pair of liquidation firms are among the bidders for video-rental chain Blockbuster in an auction Tuesday morning at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

The auction process is ongoing. Other bidders include a joint bid by liquidation firms Gordon Brothers Group and Hilco Merchant Resources, SK Telecom and a group of debtholders led by Monarch Alternative Capital LP.

At a break in the process on Tuesday, the debtholder group had the highest bid at $290 million including the assumption of $11.5 million in debt.

The bankruptcy auction will decide the fate of the Dallas movie-rental chain.

The successful buyer or buyers could continue to operate the chain in full or part or liquidate the company, pressing “stop” on the stores that brought movie night to millions of families.

When Blockbuster, based in Dallas, filed for bankruptcy protection, it was down to 3,000 stores, less than a third of the peak of 9,100 in 2004. There are about 2,400 currently open with plans to close about 700 more by mid-April.

Icahn was part of the group of debtholders that provided Blockbuster financing to operate while in bankruptcy in September. Everyone in that group except for Icahn, is part of the bidding group of debtholders led by Monarch, called Cobalt Video Holdco LLC.

Blockbuster used to dominate the U.S. movie rental business. But it lost money for years as that business declined because customers shifted to Netflix Inc., video on demand and DVD rental kiosks.

The auction is expected to be complete before a sale approval hearing scheduled for Thursday.