John Malone Likes Lionsgate, But Liberty Calls Previous Movie Bets A “Disaster”

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone wanted to use his Investor Day gathering to focus on properties the company directly owns — as opposed to Lionsgate, where his growing clout comes from other entities in his orbit. But he couldn’t avoid the matter completely.

Asked to speak generally about his interest in consolidating content companies, Malone says “we don’t rule anything out. We look at anything that fits within our model and looks like it would provide good equity returns for the company.”

Malone and Liberty CEO Greg Maffei said that they’ve been burned by earlier investments in Hollywood.

It was a “disaster” when Starz, which Liberty used to own, went into the movie business, Maffei says. “We probably lost more money [on that] than anything we did.”

Malone drew laughs by adding “I’ve done that three times, always with the same result.”

Still , earlier today Malone told CNBC’s David Faber that he considers this a good time to consolidate content companies as they deal with huge tech and cable/telco distribution powers. “One way to de-commoditize distribution is to have unique content,” he says. “Even Disney is small in market cap when you compare them with Apple or now Amazon or Facebook … or Google.”

His Lionsgate investments “got a lot of publicity.” But there’s  “a lot of cross investment going on as people try to understand what social networking, internet connectivity, portable devices are doing to content and information consumption.”

He has learned “it’s hard to predict which movies are going to succeed and which aren’t. I already knew, but it’s been driven home. It’s a brave new world.”

He calls Lionsgate execs “about as good as it gets in scripted” which makes it look “like a pretty good investment.” And agreements tied to the new stock purchases by Discovery Communication and Liberty Global — where he’d the dominant shareholder — should “allow Lionsgate to produce stuff with less risk and more certainty.”

In response to another question at Liberty’s investor confab, Malone said he regrets his decision to not make a hostile bid for Netflix around when he considered it undervalued.

The problem? “The cable guys hated Netflix,” Maffei says, and that “would have thrown Starz under the bus.” Malone added, though that about three or four years ago “I did try very hard to talk DirecTV into buying Netflix.”

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