Starz And Lionsgate Shares Soar On Report Of “Advanced Talks”

Starz is up 9.1% in post-market trading, and Lionsgate is up 7.6%, after Bloomberg reported that the studio is in “advanced talks” to acquire the premium network owner.

The conversations reportedly value Starz at more than $30 a share in a combination of cash and stock. Its shares closed today at $28.25. But negotiators are said to be vexed in trying to put a value on Starz before it negotiates a new carriage deal with AT&T’s DirecTV.

Starz shares rose last Thursday after The Street reported that Lionsgate had renewed merger conversations, but fell along with the market following the UK’s Brexit vote — which the New York Post said yesterday derailed the talks.

Still, Starz seemed to prepare itself for a deal this week when it agreed to extend CEO Chris Albrecht’s contract to 2020. The terms included a hefty raise and lucrative payout provisions if he loses the job due to a sale.

Early this month, he told an investor gathering that while he wouldn’t “predict any particular occurrence” he expected to see “more activity in the M&A space.”

He also joked that “there’s only one CEO of a company, which is often one of the problems of putting these companies together. I, on the other hand, am very easy. You want me to stay? Pay me. You want me to go home? Pay me.”

Wall Street has been waiting for the companies to get together. Starz said in an SEC filing in February that Lionsgate “intends to explore whether there is a potential mutually beneficial combination of the two companies.”

Those negotiations quickly ran aground when the studio released an earnings report for the last three months of 2015 that fell far short of Wall Street’s expectations, due in part to disappointing results for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.

Still, Starz’ investors — including Liberty Media’s John Malone, its controlling shareholder — remained eager to see it find a partner to help it compete with rivals including HBO, Showtime and Netflix.

Lionsgate was an obvious candidate. It already owns 14.7% of the voting shares in Starz following a stock swap early last year with Malone. That deal gave him a 3.4% stake in Lionsgate and a seat on its board. Lionsgate also is a part owner of Epix, a three-way joint venture with Viacom and MGM.

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