The publicly-listed life of one of Australia’s more colourful entities looks like it will be drawing to a close with Village Roadshow announcing that Rob and John Kirby, along with longtime executive, Graham Burke, have made an approach to privatise the company. The Kirbys and Burke are already 61 per cent majority shareholders of Village through their privately owned vehicle, Village Roadshow Corporation. The buy-out price will be negotiated by Village’s independent non-executive directors, led by former RBA head of research, Peter Jonson. (Jonson’s other public board role was with struggling firearm manufacturer Metal Storm before he resigned in February).

Under the leadership of the legendary Roc Kirby, Village grew to become Australia’s leading film exhibitor (Village) and distributor (through its Roadshow brand). In recent years, Village expanded into theme parks (specifically on the Gold Coast), film production (through a joint venture with Warner Brothers) and majority ownership of the Austereo radio network. However, Village’s share price has remained on a downwards spiral since peaking at around $7 in 1997 before falling to only $0.77 earlier this year.

While the buyout price will remain a sticking point, few would dispute that Village is far more suited to being a privately-run entity. For more than a decade, minority shareholders have been treated with disdain by Village executives. Most notably, the remuneration received by the Kirby’s and Burke is almost comical, given Village’s woeful shareholder returns since 1997. In 2008, the Kirby’s each received more than $3 million (the vast majority was paid in cash), while Burke collected $3.1 million. In 2007, the Kirby’s took home more than $2.4 million while Burke was paid $2.4 million.

The high remuneration coupled with Village’s terrible shareholder returns led to 82 percent of minority shareholders voting against the company’s non-binding remuneration report — one of most significant ever repudiations of a remuneration report ever witnessed. The resolution was only passed after the Kirby’s and Burke voted their significant holding in favour of the report.

Village’s disclosure, particularly with regards to its film production business, remains highly opaque. Village’s overseas expansion, which began in the mid-1990s, has been scaled back over the past decade, with Burke telling the Weekend AFR in 2006 that he was “sorry that [the overseas expansion] didn’t work out like we hoped it would.” The Australian this morning reported the views of an analyst who noted “Village has always been an illiquid stock with majority control by the Kirby brothers and Mr Burke … it is a company primed for privatisation. The share structure is complex and going private is one way of tidying up the company.”

In 2003, Village infuriated preference shareholders after attempting to buy-back preference shares for a bargain price after earlier canceling the dividend payment on those shares (the higher dividend payment was the primary reason for owning the preference shares, which otherwise ranked behind ordinary shares). Village’s attempts at conducting a scheme of arrangement to buy-back the shares was twice thwarted in the Victorian Supreme court by mysterious German shareholder Boswell Filmgesellschaft. Village was later forced to buy back the preference shares at a higher price.

Before the privatisation proposal, Village shares were trading at approximately $0.95, with the shares leaping to $1.47 this morning.