What’s the biggest surprise this year for Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei? “The market overreacted to [concerns about] cord cutting,” he told investors today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference.
Pay TV company stocks swooned in August, when Disney reported that ESPN’s subscriptions were lower than expected. They fell again in November when Time Warner cut an earnings forecast, due in part to similar downtick in cable channel subscriptions.
“There are some challenges around that,” Maffei acknowledged. “But it isn’t going away. Cord cutting isn’t happening in a quick time frame.”
He and Liberty Chairman John Malone have a lot riding on that bet. Malone controls 47% of Liberty Broadband, which controls nearly 26% of the voting shares at Charter Communications. It’s waiting for FCC and Justice Department approval for its $67 billion transactions to pick up Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.
Not surprisingly, Maffei says he’s “bullish” about Liberty Broadband’s Charter stakes. The Malone-controlled entity ultimately could sell its stakes in Charter — possibly to Charter itself. “We have governance rights and it would be a fair trade for them to take us out at a premium,” he says.
Questioners at the UBS session did not quiz Maffei deeply about Liberty’s plans for its investments in Lionsgate and other content companies.
But Maffei noted that shortform video is “exploding,” though he didn’t say how Liberty might participate in the field. Millennials in particular spend “an enormous amount of time” with material on YouTube and Snapchat, among other destinations, making it “an area I like a lot.”