Lionsgate, which has been looking at myriad ways to unlock the value of its pricey Starz operation, is considering among its options spinning the premium network into a separate company. Such a move would help reduce the debt load at Lionsgate, whose stock is near multi-year lows.
The spinoff scenario came to light in a report Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal.
In 2019, Lionsgate’s stock has plunged after starting the year above $16; shares ended Tuesday at $8.95, bouncing up slightly in after-hours trading. In early 2018, however, they had cracked $35 a share. The downward trajectory has put the company under the microscope: For 20-plus years, it has pursued a course of growth as an indie, pulling off a series of acquisitions and managing not to be the acquired one. But the longer the stock price remains in the $8-$10 range — where it has hovered since August — the closer potential buyers will circle or maneuvers will be explored by management.
Starz, which Lionsgate bought for $4.4 billion in 2016, has been the the subject of much speculation since Lionsgate held talks last spring with CBS about unloading the network behind Power, Outlander and American Gods. Negotiations at the time fell apart over price.
The WSJ report today said any forthcoming deal could involve a sale, spinoff or placement into an SPAC (Special-Purpose Acquisition Company), in which a public company would be created to finance a deal. Sources said interest has come from potential investors coming to the company (rather than Lionsgate outwardly seeking a deal), and that no final deal is imminent. SPACs have come in and out of vogue as macroeconomic conditions evolve but have never been particularly common in the entertainment industry.
Starz is in the midst of an expensive OTT and global expansion — its is currently in almost 50 countries and is projected to hit 6 million SVOD subscribers by end of the current fiscal year — and an full integration into Lionsgate Television. Just three weeks ago, Lionsgate promoted Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch to CEO, signing him to a long-term deal. In a version of Disney’s message to Wall Street regarding the investment in the global rollout of Disney+, Lionsgate has also indicated near-term costs but longer-term gains from its streaming expansion.
Also last month, Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns said at an investor conference that if the company sold Starz outright, “then we would be a pure-play studio. … We’d have more money in cash on our balance sheet than our current stock price. And no debt. But then, what are we? That’s a conversation we’d have to have with ourselves and our board of directors.”