Billionaire Alki David Is Taking His FilmOn to Wall Street

Alki David has never lacked for confidence. 

Despite repeated court decisions challenging the efficacy of his online video-streaming platform FilmOn X, Alkiviades "Alki" David is looking to take his other media businesses public.

In a filing made Friday evening with the Securities and Exchange Commission at the start of the holiday weekend, FOTV Media Networks, an entity that lost money last year, said it aims to raise $34.5 million in an initial public offering. 

Just why the billionaire of a Greek Cypriot trading and shipping family, famous for his freewheeling lifestyle, would need to raise a relatively small sum of money is unclear. But Alki David, no stranger to controversy, has rarely been predictable. 

Two years ago when the Supreme Court ruled that the subscription-video platform Aereo had infringed on copyrighted material produced by the country's largest TV networks, David said the decision would ultimately benefit his FilmOn X, a similar retransmission platform.

Even as it killed off Aereo, the Supreme Court left the door open to services such as FilmOn X, a business which isn't included in FOTV Media Networks. Although the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered FilmOn X to stop retransmitting TV network signals, the Supreme Court said it wasn't against the development of online multi-channel operators able to compete with dominant cable-TV operators.

So, while CBS (CBS) , Disney (DIS) , owner of ABC, 21st Century Fox  (FOXA)  and Comcast (CMCSA) , owner of NBCUniversal, repeatedly have gone to court to successfully block FilmOn X, David remained defiant that his business was in the public interest.

"The system is rigged," he said over lunch at a hip hotel near New York's Union Square in 2014. "Aereo's innovation was squashed, and that will mean the death of all freedom of information startups. Let's face it, the barrier to entry for innovation among new companies is shut tight."

According to David, who grew up between Switzerland, London and West Africa, the largest U.S. television companies are protected by a moat fortified by the Federal Communications Commission and the courts. The moat, he argued, led the Supreme Court to rule in June 2014 that Aereo was illegally selling subscriptions to TV networks' over-the-air signals despite the use of publicly owned spectrum by ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS to transmit their programming and sell advertising.

Aereo filed for Chapter 11 on Nov. 20, 2014, and sold its assets for less than $2 million, with TiVo (TIVO) notably taking its trademarks and other intellectual property for $1 million and patent risk management company RPX (RPXC) paying $225,000 for its patents.

The Supremes ruled that if an online platform qualified as a cable TV or satellite operator and paid "carriage fees" to transmit a network's TV signals, it could be treated like a cable TV operator.

In support of that vision, Judge George W. Wu of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled a year ago that FilmOn X was indeed a multi-channel pay-TV provider entitled to a compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act. Rupert Murdoch's Fox promptly has appealed the California ruling, arguing that FilmOn X isn't entitled to a compulsory license to transmit broadcasters' programming. 

Fox and other networks won a nearly nationwide injunction against FilmOn in 2013 when a federal court in Washington ruled in favor of the broadcasters. Separately, David was served with a contempt of court order when a New York judge ruled that he had mischaracterized a licensing agreement with CBS. For its part, CBS said the licensing agreement never existed.

"The networks went crazy," David said. "We were already going to [negotiate], but instead we got sued by all of the networks. So, we were in a fight very early with the networks."

FilmOn X stopped directly broadcasting networks programming in February when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld earlier sanctions against the company for continuing to stream TV shows and films in violation of the earlier federal injunction. The court sanctioned FilmOn $90,000 and awarded plaintiff's legal fees of $115,000.

The FOTV Media offering, the company says, won't depend on the results of ongoing litigation involving FilmOn X. Nonetheless, FOTV Media's four main business, which lost $8.7 million on $13.1 million in revenue, remain in start-up mode entering a very competitive marketplace for online video subscribers, augmented by the emergence of various skinny bundles such as Dish Networks' (DISH) Sling TV.

Those business includes the video-on-demand sites FilmOn, which also live-streams music and sporting events, OV Guide and CinemaNow as well as Hologram USA Productions, which uses video projection technology to re-imagine live music performances. David's company also owns platforms for marketing and advertising.

The FOTV Media prospectus make clear that its "business depends on the availability" of Alki David "who has financed our operations to date, has ... business contacts that would be extremely difficult to replace, and our business would be materially and adversely affected if his services were to become unavailable."

FOTV also states that as a company with less than $1 billion in revenue, it "may take advantage of specified reduced reporting requirements" such as "certain executive compensation disclosure provisions."

If FilmOn's IPO is successful, it would trade on Nasdaq under the ticker FOTV. The company looks to sell shares at $8 apiece.

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