It’s “more likely than not” that new online video streaming providers such as Amazon will offer some programming on a premium tier — a contrast with Netflix’s single-price package — Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said this morning at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference. He broadly hinted that his company’s desire to charge extra for Starz was a big reason why the premium channel recently ended negotiations to extend its carriage deal with Netflix. The current arrangement, he says, is “inconsistent” with the way consumers receive Starz on pay TV.
More broadly, Maffei says that Liberty is on track to split off its Liberty Capital and Liberty Starz tracking stocks by tomorrow now that it has beat back a court challenge by bondholders. The deal transfers some assets to the spun-off companies, violating some bond agreements. But the Delaware Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower court decision that said the split-off is OK because it isn’t part of what it called an “overall scheme” to hurt bondholders. That likely won’t change the overall strategy for the company that’s controlled by the famously tax-averse former cable titan John Malone — and that some analysts say is little more than a portfolio of stock holdings. “Finding things to buy at attractive prices is the biggest chalenge we have today,” Maffei says. In addition to repurchasing Liberty shares, the company has “looked at things that are downtrodden,” he says. That’s how Liberty came to own major stakes in Sirius XM and Barnes & Noble. Liberty tried to buy the book store chain because it likes the potential of e-book sales for it Nook e-reader and “we think the retail business is likely to decline at a slower rate than people anticipate.” Talks fell apart when B&N wanted a higher price just as “the financial markets were moving away from us.” Maffei says that at QVC “we are doing surprisingly well in the U.S. given what consumer confidence is.” The company’s focusing more on consumer electronics than jewelry, but still wants to target women. It also wants to avoid comparisons with Amazon, which Maffei calls “a fearsome, strong competitor.” Liberty might consider going after HSN, but “not at today’s price.”