Starz CEO Favors Consolidation But Won’t Specify Status Of Lionsgate Talks

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht couldn’t avoid the elephant in the room today in his quarterly conference call with analysts: Lionsgate’s recent SEC filing saying that it was engaged in deal talks with the premium network company.

“This was their filing,” he says. Still, “we believe in consolidation and are open minded about the best ways to create shareholder and strategic value for ourselves and any possible business partners. However, we only believe in a potential combination of Starz that fully appreciates the value of our business and provides appropriate returns for our shareholders.”

Investors who were eager to see a combination felt let down earlier this month when Lionsgate’s shares fell after it reported weaker than expected year end results. As hopes for a deal faded, Starz shares also fell. They’re down nearly 32% since the beginning of this year.

“We believe recent stock market volatility left our stock meaningfully undervalued,” Albrecht says. “The fundamentals of our business have not changed.”

Albrecht declined to say whether the companies are still talking or “where we might be in the foreseeable future.”

Starz’s biggest shareholder, Liberty Media’s John Malone, is eager to see a combination — and last year engineered a stock swap that put him on Lionsgate’s board. The studio now owns 14.7% of the voting shares in Starz, while Malone has a 3.4% stake in Lionsgate. The movie and TV producer also is a part owner of Epix, a three-way joint venture with Viacom and MGM.

On other fronts, Albrecht calls the early subscription data from Amazon — which in December started to offer Starz for $8.99 a month — “very encouraging.” The premium network provider says it’s talking about similar arrangements with other distributors as it also develops a stand-alone app.

Albrecht made his comments as Starz shares fell 1% in postmarket trading, following its weaker-than-expected Q4 earnings. The company generated net income of $27.9 million, down nearly 64% vs the period at the end of 2014, on revenues of $427.6 million, up 0.5%.

The top line slightly beat the $426.2 million that analysts expected. But earnings at 26 cents a share missed the consensus forecast for 30 cents.

Starz says that networks revenues fell 1% due to “merger related activity at certain distributors” — specifically, AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV. Albrecht says there’s been no contract changes due to the change. Profits also fell as the company’s investment in films and TV shows grew $3.1 million to $57.9 million.

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