John Malone's Vision for New Charter Becoming Much Clearer

 

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- John Malone, the billionaire media mogul, doesn't often speak to reporters, but in comments to The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, he provided rare insights into his vision for his extensive holdings in content and broadband.

Malone, 74, said he could envision a merger between Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF), the film and television production house, and Starz (STRZA), the premium pay-TV network. Malone owns shares in both companies through his controlling stake in Liberty Media (LMCA), where he is chairman.

Lions Gate, owner of the Hunger Games franchise, gave Malone a seat on its board in February after he swapped his 4.5% stake in Starz for a 3.43% share of the film studio. All told, Lions Gate holds a 14.5% voting stake in Starz, where Malone is the largest voting shareholder. Liberty spun-off Starz in 2013.

Shares of Englewood, Col.-based Starz climbed 1.5% to $41.70 on Wednesday, extending its 2015 advance to 40%.

"Lions Gate could buy Starz and potentially other free radicals in the industry," Malone said during an investor meeting in Denver of Liberty Media and a sister company, Liberty Broadband  (LBRDA)."

Malone's comments come a week after Charter Communications (CHTR), the pay-TV provider backed by Liberty Broadband, secured a deal to acquire Time Warner Cable (TWC) for $56 billion along with a separate transaction to buy a smaller cable-TV outlet, Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion. Both deals are being reviewed by federal regulators.

As Liberty stands to hold a 25% stake in the new Charter, Malone is in a position to combine his array of U.S. media holdings, and potentially other content companies as well. And with Charter poised to become the country's second-largest pay-TV operator behind Comcast (CMCSA), Malone would have the security of a distribution platform for his content companies.

When asked whether Lions Gate could be used to acquire AMC Networks (AMCX), the maker of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, or Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI), owner of HGTV and the Food Channel, Malone said that was a possibility but that convincing the controlling shareholders of both companies might be difficult, the Journal reported.

More likely, Malone intimated, was future collaboration between Lions Gate and Discovery Communications (DISCA), owner of TLC, Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. Discovery's shares have declined 56% over the post 12 months as its U.S. advertising revenue. Malone told the Journal that Discovery "needs to get into scripted in a bigger way."

indeed, original scripted programming has helped to enliven Starz, which historically has trailed its rival premium-networks, HBO and CBS's (CBS) Showtime. In New York on Tuesday, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht held court at a Time Square theater to trumpet a second season of its hit show Power.

"There seems to be insatiable demand for these high-quality, premium shows, and now I think we're delivering as good a line up as anybody," Albrecht said.

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