HOLLYWOOD -- William I. Koch, the chairman of a major supercomputing company and one of the richest men in the United States, has asked the head of a large Hollywood talent agency to explore making a bid for ailing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., according to film industry sources.
In a letter dated Sept. 16, Mr. Koch authorized Jeff Berg, chairman of International Creative Management, "to solicit information about Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on behalf of Oxbow Corporation so that Oxbow can evaluate the feasibility of the purchase of all or part of MGM."
Mr. Koch and Mr. Berg declined to discuss the arrangement yesterday.
But film industry agents and executives said that Mr. Koch's interest in the once-great, now deeply troubled MGM studio reflected the increased interest among investors in entertainment companies, which has come amid a bidding war for Paramount Communications.
Besides Paramount, several other entertainment companies have been on the market recently. Last month, Ted Turner agreed to buy New Line Cinema and Castle Rock, a move designed in part to expand his sources for television.
"People look at the Paramount situation and they say, 'Wow,' " one knowledgeable agent said. "They look around and see that, aside from Paramount and Disney, there's only one freestanding studio left. And that's MGM."
MGM has undergone financial and creative turmoil for years. Credit Lyonnais, the giant French bank, took control of the studio last year, after a default by Giancarlo Paretti, the Italian financier who had borrowed heavily to acquire the company.
Mr. Koch is a son of Fred Koch, the billionaire founder of Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., the oil, chemical and agricultural giant. Fred Koch died in 1967.
William Koch founded Oxbow Corp. in 1983; the company owns plants that generate electricity using alternative fuels, markets coal and petroleum and invests in real estate.
Forbes magazine ranked Oxbow, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., as the 97th-largest privately held company in the United States. Mr. Koch is also chairman of Kendall Square Research Corp. of Waltham, Mass., which produces supercomputers.
International Creative is the second-largest talent agency in Hollywood. It represents stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Mr. Berg is now assembling a financial team, from within and outside his agency, to examine MGM's assets and future. Mr. Berg is expected to start reporting his findings to Koch within the next 30 days, people close to Mr. Koch said.