Image Entertainment Inc., a licensee, producer and distributor of DVDs and CDs, has hired investment bank Lazard Freres & Co. as its financial adviser while it explores business options.

The Chatsworth-based company has been the target of takeover bids from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., all of which have been rejected thus far. Images board members said last year that they were open to a sale but that previous offers of $4 a share were too low.

Image has about 3,000 DVD titles, more than 200 CD titles in domestic release and 300 international programs.

"The Special Committee, made up of independent directors of the company, will examine all potential strategic and financial opportunities to maximize long-term value," said the panel's chairman, Ira S. Epstein, in a statement.

Lions Gate owns 19 percent of Image's stock, and last year, Lions Gate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer wrote a letter to Image's board stating that a takeover of the CD and DVD supplier would add to Lions Gate's film library and "add an important musical component to its business." With more than 9,000 titles Lions Gate already has one of the industry's largest film libraries.

Last September, Image implemented anti-takeover measures including staggered board elections every three years and reincorporation into Delaware.

Lions Gate filed a lawsuit in Delaware last month to try to force Image's six-member board of directors to stand for re-election at Image's annual meeting in September, a move that would allow Lions Gate to field a slate of its own candidates for board seats.

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