Starz shares are up 3.2% this morning after Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei told investors that we’re entering a period of programming consolidation and “we’ll see whether there’s a partnership for Starz or not.” Some investors have looked at the premium cable networks operation as a takeover candidate after Liberty spun it off into a separate company. (Maffei remains Starz’ chairman.) Even if a deal doesn’t materialize, Maffei told the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom conference that he likes Starz’ business model. The recent renewal of the film rights deal with Sony Pictures helps because Starz needs time to develop successful original series. “You probably couldn’t ramp up original programming fast enough” to compensate for the loss of Sony, he says. The value from the originals comes from Starz’ ability to raise the rates it charges pay TV distributors and “we’re not going to see rate increases for quite a while.” Indeed, some distributors demanded lower rates when Starz distributed its content through Netflix. Since that agreement expired last year, “I’m optimistic about our ability to move pricing going forward,” Maffei says. He also continues to believe that someone will introduce a premium-priced streaming service that could offer Starz’ programming. “Traditional distributors won’t be happy, but they’ll be understanding that they’ll be playing on a level playing field.”
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