An executive suite full of Lionsgate executives — seven in all — took turns answering questions from Wall Street analysts Thursday in a conference call to discuss quarterly results and the state of the company.
Analysts wondered how the company is positioning itself for the streaming wars and also the battle for talent, which was underscored by this week’s nine-figure pact at Netflix for Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss. Kevin Beggs, chairman of the company’s TV group, acknowledged there are “a lot of headlines about a lot of unbelievable mega-deals” of late. “But we’ve never been chasing others in that business. We’ve always been really disciplined and really focused on the genres that we pursue. For writers and directors who are overperforming, there’s always been an unbelievable upside the way we structure our deals.”
Unlike more mono-focused platforms like Netflix, whose streaming service is the alpha and omega and whose economics permit no back end, CEO Jon Feltheimer said Lionsgate caters to talent desiring options. “The great thing about a company like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Point Grey or any of the companies that we’re involved with is, we actually present them with all kinds of alternatives,” Feltheimer said. “I think that’s what talent really wants. They want the ability to do a feature film. They want the ability to go to Netflix [as a supplier], they want the ability to own a piece of the backend. They want the ability to potentially do a story for Starz. Surprisingly, or not, with creators I think they really want to know that they have all of those options.”
Jeffrey Hirsch, COO of Starz, said the premium network is projecting more than 6 million streaming subscribers by the end of the year. It added 400,000 in the quarter to reach 4.4 million. Superna Kalle, EVP of international digital networks at Starz, said internationally the premium brand is “growing week on week. We see a very, very strong cadence and we’re ahead of schedule.” She did not offer updated global projections, but earlier this year the company had forecast an aggressive investment in the global rollout of the service, targeting 20 million subscribers by 2024.
Asked about whether the $7-a-month Disney+ was apt to take a bite out of Starz, which is $9 a month, Hirsch said the company believes it is “additive,” not competitive, with it. “If you look at the history of Starz, we’ve always been a premium, add-on television.” The traction Starz has gotten among adult women, he added, makes for a “great combination” with the family audience for Disney+, he added. He teased a “proprietary marketing product” being launched in the fall with Disney, presumably aimed at boosting both services.
No analyst ventured to ask for any update on reports that Starz held talks with CBS about a potential $5 billion acquisition of Starz less than three years after Lionsgate bought it for $4.4 billion.
Beggs addressed the profit outlook for Lionsgate’s TV production as well as the integration of the studio’s activities with Starz, a dovetailing that began with The Rook, which premiered several weeks ago. Given the global game plan for Starz, he noted that even some major domestic sales — for shows like Kingkiller Chronicle to Showtime or Love Life on HBO Max — Lionsgate has retained international rights.
After the studio “supercharged our relationship with Starz” in February, Beggs continued, “we put have put 20 more projects into development since then.” The two have jointly greenlit two or three additional series, with “more coming.”
Film operations under Joe Drake have been on the upswing after John Wick, Chapter 3 – Parabellum proved a smash in late springtime. Asked about the film landscape with a consolidating Disney and Fox as well as uncertainty around how the streaming giants’ potential theatrical forays could upend the business, Drake said the result is “more opportunity” for Lionsgate.
“We’ve become an ever more important supplier for exhibition as the ecosystem of theatrical distribution among the majors narrows,” he said. On the content side, “we’ve begun to differentiate ourselves as more of a middle-market player. We’re one of a very small group of companies that can reach the consumer in this way and that’s incredibly important to talent. As much as the streamers have been very busy, of course, we haven’t had a hard time. We’ve signed a number of innovative deals and have a number in the works to really round out our supply.”
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