Lions Gate Entertainment Corp (LGFA) Vice Chairman Michael Burns piqued anticipation that the studio behind "Hunger Games" and "Twilight" would be scooped up by a larger media, telecom or tech company in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday evening.
"We talk to everybody," Burns said when asked if Lions Gate had been in talks with CNBC parent Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) . Lions Gate shares were up almost 3% to $35.90 on Thursday late morning.
Lions Gate would be a "a bolt-on" for Comcast, said Burns, who also discussed the potential for deals with Verizon Communications (VZ) , Comcast (CMCSA) , Amazon (AMZN) and CBS Corp. (CBS) . Lions Gate, which has backing from legendary deal maker John Malone, would be a "pint-sized bite for some of these giant market cap companies," Burns said.
The media industry is at a crossroads. AT&T Inc. (T) is battling the Department of Justice to complete its acquisition of HBO parent Time Warner Inc. for $85.4 billion, or $108.7 billion including assumed debt. Burns said that AT&T had become an "800-pound gorilla" with its acquisition of DirecTV Group; if it can close the Time Warner purchase, Burns said the gorilla essentially be "handed a bazooka, which is HBO."
Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) is buying Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.'s (FOXA) film and television studios, international satellite TV operations and other assets for $66 billion. The move has raised speculation that other companies in the video streaming business will make acquisitions to gain scale, with Lions Gate and privately held MGM Studios Inc. coming into focus as potential targets.
The deals present a dilemma for companies such as Amazon and Verizon that are building online video businesses.
"A lot of these companies, particularly in the tech space, have to ask themselves do they want to build it or do they want to buy it?" Burns said on CNBC. "Then the question is how far ahead are others if they want to be in the streaming business or the subscription business in a bigger way, how far ahead are others. And if they believe they are pretty far ahead, my guess is they would buy it as opposed to build it."
Lions Gate and Amazon already have a deep relationship. Lions Gate produced The Big Sick and Manchester by the Sea for Amazon Studios. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services provides cloud computing services to Lions Gate. "We're a customer of Amazon's and we think there is more to do with them," Burns said.
Burns noted that Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam said during Tuesday earnings call he is not considering a big media deal.
"It would be interesting to hear the definition of 'big,'" Burns said.
Burns makes a good point. Lions Gate has a $7 billion market cap, and is worth $10 billion including debt. That's about the total amount that Verizon paid for Yahoo! Inc. ($4.48 billion) and AOL ($4.4 billion).
CBS and Viacom Inc. (VIAB) could reunite, Burns suggested, noting that Shari Redstone and the Redstone family control the companies. The Redstones tried to combine the two in 2016. Burns said that a current deal could be a two-way merger or a three-way merger, perhaps implying that Lions Gate could join with CBS and Viacom.
"I don't have a crystal ball," Burns said of the latest round of deal speculation. "John Malone is the only one I know who has one of those."
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