Lionsgate Shares Spike As Major Investor Spins Amazon Buyout Theory

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Lionsgate shares surged 8% today, after rising more than 3% yesterday, as a major investor speculated that the company would make for a desirable acquisition for Amazon.

The independent company’s stock finished the trading day at $24.42, which is well below its highest level for the year of $36.48 in January. But today’s pop, the fourth straight day of gains, is being linked to vice chairman Michael Burns’ purchase of 50,000 shares as well as the comments by John Kornitzer, the fourth-largest holder of Lionsgate Class A shares.

Kornitzer shared his theory with Bloomberg that because Amazon is working with Lionsgate-owned Starz on the rollout of the Starz OTT app in several territories, the experience could put the e-commerce giant in a buying mood. His thesis, and we quote: “Who knows?”

For nearly as long as the microchip has existed, Wall Street and Main Street alike have imagined the day when tech giants would buy up traditional assets, especially media. But there seems to be scant real-world evidence to support the theory becoming a defining reality, given that legacy media is saddled with declining assets ill-suited to the digital and social world of today. There is also the cautionary tale of the least successful merger of modern times: AOL Time Warner.

In the case of Amazon, as it has increased its investment in film and TV content as well as smart TV products and other electronics, its connections with Hollywood have steadily increased. Its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos also acquired the Washington Post, showing he has an appetite for certain older-media assets. And the company did buy Whole Foods as a way into the grocery business, prompting speculation that owning a major movie or TV outfit could be a similar vehicle.

Last winter, as Lionsgate’s stock was hitting new highs and the company was coming off a big holiday box office season with Wonder and John Wick: Chapter Two, Deadline reported merger talks had occurred between the company and suitors including Amazon, Verizon and a combined Viacom-CBS (the last two of which were then in serious merger discussions, which then soured). With M&A activity reaching historic levels of intensity, the thought was, who wouldn’t want to scoop up Lionsgate in a world desperate for a proven pipeline of film and TV content?

The company’s story in the months since has been more muted, with Starz the main financial driver. The film unit has gone through a management reshuffling and has capped out at the box office with May’s Overboard remake, which pulled in $50 million.

Burns, who early in the year had practically put out a “for sale” sign during an appearance on CNBC, modulated his position this month during a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York. There are larger companies who might find Lionsgate attractive as an acquisition, he acknowledged, but there are also smaller ones to buy, as the company has adroitly done with Starz, Summit, Debmar-Mercury, Artisan and other acquisitions. “We’re predator — until we’re prey,” Burns said. “We do believe that we need to be bigger. We really are a predator for the moment, or maybe we will turn to prey or maybe we will continue to gobble up companies. No one has a crystal ball.”

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