“More may come” from John Malone’s surprising recent alliance with Lionsgate although “nothing is guaranteed,” the Liberty Media chairman’s closest colleague — company CEO Greg Maffei — told the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference today. Malone joined the studio’s board following a stock swap with Starz, which he controls, because he believes that “content creators are gaining new power through new platforms” both digital and international. That’s “interesting” to the Liberty chairman.
But while “working together is the most attractive part,” the idea of a deal between Lionsgate and Starz remains in the air. “You need to have partnerships, you need to do more,” Maffei says. “Whether that ultimately leads to acquisitions… you need to be able to do more with bigger people.” “Joining the Lionsgate board “is a way for both parties to get to know each other a little bit better, in a concrete fashion.” It also was “reasonably easy,” because it didn’t require a lot of regulatory approval.
Maffei told the group that Starz should benefit from Time Warner’s announcement today of its HBO NOW stand-alone streaming service. It would demonstrate how a company that owns premium channels and creates content can “distribute its product across more channels.” Unlike HBO, which teamed with Apple to kick off its new service, “I think we can do it in a way that is in conjunction with our cable, telco, and satellite partners. which is attractive.”
But the Liberty CEO has mixed feelings about the HBO initiative. “I don’t think there’s that much upside in a standalone HBO,” he says. The Time Warner operation will probably make less from each customer in its alliance with Apple than it does with cable operators. As long as HBO NOW doesn’t promote cord cutting, with premium subscribers swapping to the stand-alone product, “then they’ll be ahead.” And Apple can “help them a lot with distribution that they have not historically had.” Even so, “I still question whether it’s going to be an enormous opportunity for them.”