Michael Burns: Lionsgate Focused on Catalog Acquisitions as Well as Original Content Spending

In the crush of original content production across studios and streaming platforms, Lionsgate has taken a slightly different path, focusing equally on catalog library acquisitions, in addition to original TV shows and movies.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio/distributor this year acquired three separate movie libraries, including a 20% stake in Spyglass Media Group, securing distribution rights to more than 200 movies and most of the The Weinstein Co. library. Lionsgate also owns stakes in Trimark Pictures, Artisan Entertainment and Summit Entertainment.

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“The ability to buy these libraries when everybody else is standing still, that’s a strategic advantage,” Michael Burns, chairman of Lionsgate, told an investor group.

Speaking Sept. 21 at the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Burns said Lionsgate has spent $20 billion on content over the past 20 years — much of it on third-party libraries. The company generated in excess of $700 million in revenue on catalog content in 2020.

“The [movie] license business ages extremely well,” Burns said. “We have all the Weinstein product from 2005 to 2018. We’re the largest holder of Quentin Tarantino movies now. We have an opportunity right now to monetize library product like never before. It’s a terrific time to be in the content business.”

Burns said that in addition to SVOD, the burgeoning ad-supported VOD and FAST streaming platforms in the U.S. (i.e. Pluto TV, Tubi, The Roku Channel, etc.) and worldwide has created new distribution opportunities.

“AVOD has turned out to be a great business for us, domestically, as all these players emerge. And they just opened internationally,” he said.

On the conference call, Jeffrey Hirsch, CEO of Starz, said the premium channel is now generating more revenue from digital distribution than pay-television. Linear and streaming now account for 30 million combined subscribers.

“The brand’s streaming platforms are now operating in 59 countries outside the U.S.,” Hirsch said. “We think we are really positioned to capture market share outside the U.S.”

Meanwhile, at a time when industrywide consolidation sees Amazon acquiring MGM and Discovery taking control of WarnerMedia, Lionsgate remains a prime target for third-party acquisition. In the last earnings call, CEO Jon Feltheimer said the company would not be distracted by industrywide “concept of scale,” while at the same time remaining open to discussions with “everyone” and listening to “everything.”

The reality is not lost upon Burns.

“We expect to see more consolidation in the media sector,” he said. “That’s a given. We are one of the last big independent media companies. Our size allows us to be nimble. We are the PT boats surrounded by battleships. We are going to continue to identify ways to increase the value of our stock price.”

Starz Greenlights Second Season of Comedy Series ‘Run the World’

Starz, the Lionsgate-owned multiplatform content distribution platform, Aug. 27 announced it has greenlighted a second season of original comedy series “Run the World.” Rachelle Williams (“Love Life,” “Mixed-ish,” “Survivor’s Remorse”) joins season two as showrunner and will executive produce alongside Yvette Lee Bowser (“Living Single,” “black-ish,” Lionsgate’s “Dear White People”) and series creator Leigh Davenport (The Perfect Find, “Wendy Williams: The Hot Topic”).

“Run the World” follows a group of smart, funny, and vibrant thirty-something black women — fiercely loyal best friends — who live, work and play in Harlem. As they each navigate career highs and lows, hookups and heartbreaks that causes them to re-evaluate who they are and where they are going, the series is unapologetic about friendship not only surviving but thriving together.

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“‘Run the World’ has been so passionately embraced by our audience and we are thrilled to bring fans another season,’ Alison Hoffman, president of domestic networks for Starz, said in a statement. “Our incredibly talented cast and executive producers Yvette and Leigh are set to return, and we’re excited to welcome Rachelle back into the Starz family leading as showrunner and executive producer.”

“Run the World” is produced by Lionsgate Television. SVP of original programming Kathryn Tyus-Adair is the executive overseeing the series on behalf of Starz. SVP of television Jocelyn Sabo and director of television Maggie Leung oversee the series on behalf of Lionsgate.

Starz continues to market original programming toward underrepresented audiences, including black women. The company topped 29 million global streaming subscribers in its most-recent fiscal period. Starz has about 12.8 million pay-TV subs.

Starz, Disney Reach Agreement for Star+ Brazil Launch

Lionsgate-owned Starz and Disney have reportedly reached an agreement that now allows Disney to begin rolling out its Star+ streaming platform in Brazil on Aug. 31.

A Brazilian judge had imposed a preliminary injunction against Disney blocking the Star+ launch on the grounds that consumers might be confused by the similar brand names. A spokesperson for Lionsgate/Starz said the dispute had been resolved “with the parties entering into an agreement with significant benefits for both companies.”

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Disney acquired the Indian-based Hotstar brand with its $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox — a deal that has generated about one-third of Disney+ subscribers worldwide. Disney has sought to incorporate content from 20th Century Fox, Searchlight Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, and Hollywood Pictures under the Star+ streaming brand. A strategy replicated with Disney-majority owned Hulu streaming ABC, Freeform, FX and FXX content.

The Brazil decision does not enable Disney to rollout Star+ in Argentina or Mexico as both countries feature similarly filed Starz litigation.

Starz Ups Superna Kalle to President, International Networks

Seeking to further expand its global footprint, Starz July 7 announced the promotion of Superna Kalle to president of international networks, reflecting the premium pay platform’s continued international growth — notably in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Superna Kalle

Kalle previously served as EVP for international digital networks at Lionsgate-owned Starz, which she joined in 2018 to lead the international expansion of Starzplay, now available in 58 countries. Reporting directly to CEO Jeffrey Hirsch, Kalle oversees the international division’s growth for Starzplay, including all aspects of programming and production on the platform’s international original series, distribution, marketing and publicity, along with Lionsgate Play. While at Starz, Kalle has solidified the platform’s presence in Europe, Latin America and Canada.

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“Superna is an incredibly talented and strategic executive who has demonstrated her acute business expertise to help expand Starz into the global premium SVOD service it is today,” Hirsch said in a statement. “She has done a superb job of building a successful international division from the ground up that has formed strategic distribution partnerships and international original productions that contribute to our company’s innovation and distinction. I look forward to even greater global growth under her continued leadership.”

Prior to joining Starz, Kalle was a senior advisor to several media companies guiding them on international SVOD strategy, digital operations, restructuring and global business development. Major clients included Lionsgate and CBS/Showtime.

Kalle spent 16 years at Sony Pictures Television where she served as SVP and GM, Networks. Based out of Sony’s headquarters in Culver City, Calif., Kalle oversaw the company’s television networks portfolio and equity investments in the U.S. and Canada. For the U.S., she launched and served as general manager of the wholly-owned Sony networks, Sony Movie Channel, SPT’s first multi-platform television network; Cine Sony Television, SPT’s Spanish language movie network; and getTV, the Company’s first digital subchannel dedicated to classic programming. Kalle also served on the board of other popular cable and digital channels, including GSN (Game Show Network, LLC) and fearNET (a joint venture with Lionsgate and Comcast). In Canada, Kalle oversaw SPT’s partnership with Hollywood Suite, which carried the Sony Movie Channel brand.

Prior to her domestic role at Sony, she was SVP of international networks and held multiple board positions at Sony’s television networks business in India, Japan and Pan-Asia. She joined SPT from parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), where she had served as VP of corporate development. She joined SPE as manager of corporate development in 1999.

Kalle currently serves on the board of directors for Starzplay Arabia, as a director of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and on the board of trustees of Woodbury University. Among her honors and awards, Kalle has been recognized as one of Cablefax’s “Most Powerful Women” and “Top Women in Media” multiple times, and was named a Multichannel News/NAMIC Luminary for her accomplishments overseeing Sony Movie Channel. She is also proud to be a Mentor in the 2021 Women in Entertainment (WIE) Mentorship Program (BBBSLA).

‘Gossip Girl’ Reboot Top Anticipated New Show in July

The HBO Max “Gossip Girl” reboot is the top anticipated new show on the TV Time chart for July.

The reboot of the 2007-12 TV series follows a new generation of New York private school teens using social media to spread gossip. It hits screens July 8.

Topping the anticipated returning shows chart for July was Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever,” season two of which debuts July 15. In season two of the coming-of-age comedy created by Mindy Kaling, Indian American teenager Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) continues to deal with the everyday pressures of high school and drama at home, while also navigating new romantic relationships.

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TV Time, owned by Whip Media, is a free TV viewership tracking app that tracks consumers’ viewing habits worldwide and is visited by more than 1 million consumers every day, according to the company. TV Time’s “Anticipation Report” is based on data from those users.

Most Anticipated New Shows for July:

  1. “Gossip Girl” 2021 (HBO Max) — July 8
  2. “American Horror Stories” (Hulu) — July 15
  3. “Monsters at Work” (Disney+) — July 7
  4. “Power Book III: Raising Kanan” (Starz) — July 18
  5. “Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness” (Netflix) — July 8

 

Most Anticipated Returning Shows for July:

  1. “Never Have I Ever” (Netflix) — July 15
  2. “Outer Banks” (Netflix) — July 30
  3. “Atypical” (Netflix) — July 9
  4. “Virgin River” (Netflix) — July 9
  5. “Biohackers” (Netflix) — July 9

Parrot: Demand for Starz Original Series Way Higher Than Average TV Show

Parrot Analytics June 28 reported an analysis of audience demand across top streaming networks that found Starz’s premium programming delivers the highest hit rate, with the most in-demand series, both domestically and internationally.

In the United States, Parrot Analytics said that in the 12-month period ended June 19, a Starz original series generated five times as much demand as an average TV series. Demand for Starz series is higher than that of any other streaming service’s series, with Disney+ at No. 2 and HBO at No. 3.

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Parrot Analytics also reported that Starz originals are even more in-demand on a global scale: With 5.38 times the global TV series demand average, a Starz original is 6.1% more demanded internationally than it is domestically. Furthermore, on a global scale, the average Starz original is 12.6% ahead of the next-best performing platform’s average original series.

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Parrot Analytics measures demand with a proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which factors in a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

In an adjacent study, Parrot Analytics has found that the typical Starz title travels internationally, across its Starzplay platform, 74% better than the typical Netflix series, and 60% better than the typical HBO series. Markets that have scored highly for “Power Book II: Ghost,” for example, include South Africa, with 82% “travelability” (a measure of a series’ global appeal relative to the appeal in its home market). Kenya scored 81%, followed by France (76%), China (74%) and the United Kingdom (71%).

The average Starz title also has 41% more longevity than the global average; high longevity indicates series that are good at maintaining audience demand.

Jeffrey Hirsch, Starz president and CEO, said in a statement in a Parrot Analytics news release, “These results reinforce Starz’s proven ability to bring audiences high-quality premium programming, which we believe is key to success over raw scale. With our most robust slate ever, Starz is continuing to deliver exceptional premium programming focused on amplifying narratives by, about and for women and underrepresented audiences.”

Parrot Analytics reports that the Starz network between January and April had four out of the ten most in-demand diverse series. These highly demanded diverse series are “Power Book II: Ghost” (13.1 times more demand in the U.S. than the average TV series), “Power” (11.4x), “P-Valley” (9.8x) and “Vida” (9.0x).

“Starz is not afraid to tell the stories of women and audiences that have been traditionally underrepresented on television,” said Wared Seger, CEO of Parrot Analytics.

Season 3 of ‘American Gods’ Due on Disc July 27

Lionsgate will release American Gods: Season Three on Blu-ray Disc and DVD July 27.

Based on the popular novel by Neil Gaiman, the Starz fantasy series stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Emily Browning as Laura Moon, and Crispin Glover as Mr. World.

In the 10 episodes of the third season, dangerous secrets intensify the inevitable war building between the Old Gods of mythology and the New Gods of technology. When Shadow Moon discovers that his boss, Mr. Wednesday, is not only one of the Old Gods but is also his father, Shadow attempts to break away and find his own path. Guided on this spiritual journey by the gods of his black ancestors, the Orishas, Shadow puts down roots in the idyllic, snowy town of Lakeside, Wisconsin — but this small town holds dark and bloody secrets that force him to accept his destiny. Rather than facing a choice between divinity or humanity, Shadow must now decide just what kind of god he wants to be.

Disc extras include the featurettes “Meet the New Gods of Season Three,” “Road to Epiphany: The Season Three Journey” and “Five Questions for the Cast.” The Blu-ray edition will include a digital copy of the episodes.

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Lionsgate Releasing Season 2 of ‘The Spanish Princess’ on DVD July 20

Lionsgate will release The Spanish Princess Part 2 on DVD July 20.

The collection includes the final eight episodes of the Starz series, which tells the epic story of Queen Catherine of Aragon and King Henry VIII.

Based on the best-selling novels The King’s Curse and The Constant Princess written by Philippa Gregory, the miniseries stars Charlotte Hope (“Game of Thrones”) as Catherine and Ruairi O’Connor (“Delicious”) as Henry VIII.

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Beloved by their people and presiding over the most glamorous court in Europe, Catherine and Henry see their relationship tested as Catherine prepares to give birth to an heir, and England wars with France.

The cast also includes Laura Carmichael (“Downton Abbey”), Andrew Buchan (“The Crown”), Sai Bennett (“Mr Selfridge”) and Aaron Cobham (“Midsomer Murders”).

Lionsgate’s ‘Spiral’ Heading to Starz in October

Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures’ horror thriller Spiral: From The Book of Saw will launch exclusively in its U.S. Pay 1 window on the premium subscription platform Starz on Oct. 8. In time for Halloween, the launch will be followed by the early arrival of the entire “Saw” franchise on Starz as part of Lionsgate’s new theatrical output agreement with its subsidiary.

Spiral, the latest installment of the “Saw” franchise starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, has been the No. 1 film at the pandemic-addled U.S. box office two weeks in a row, a first in “Saw” franchise history. The franchise broke the $1 billion mark at the global box office last weekend and is one of the longest-running horror franchises in history.

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Spiral centers on Rock, who plays Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran played by Jackson.  Along with his rookie partner (Max Minghella), Banks takes charge of an investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past.

“The convergence of our studio and platform businesses allows us to create holistic and bespoke release strategies for our films that maximize their potential in every distribution window,” Jim Packer, president of worldwide television distribution, said in a statement. “By collaborating with our partners at Twisted Pictures and controlling our own destiny, we’re able to bring Spiral to each of its audiences at the perfect time, synchronizing its first pay window debut with the arrival of the rest of the franchise at Halloween.”

Starz CEO: Sony Pay 1 Output Deal Wasn’t Working for Us

Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch said losing Sony movies to Netflix and Disney was a strategic win for his company as “the value wasn’t there” for Starz.

Netflix and Disney earlier this year made separate sequential Pay 1 output deals for Sony Pictures’ 2022 movie slate, wresting the content from Starz.

The 2017-21 Pay 1 deal between Starz and Sony was projected to generate about $1.3 billion in license fees for Sony — up about $330 million from the previous $739 million pact from 2014 to 2021. Over time, Starz apparently questioned the value of the content it was paying big money for.

Jeffrey Hirsch

Speaking May 12 on the virtual MoffettNathanon 8th Annual Media and Communications Summit, Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch said that other than three box office hits — Spider-Man: Far From Home, Jumanji: The Next Level and Venom — the bulk of the studio’s theatrical slate failed to resonate with moviegoers. Hirsch said box office data has always been a big deal in the Pay 1 window — and what he saw from Sony wasn’t compelling.

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“About 50% of the movies coming from Sony that we were paying for made under $10 million at the box office,” Hirsch said. “And if you look at the Top 10 movies over the last 12 months [prior to the pandemic], if you take [those movies out], none of those movies we got [from Sony] were in the Top 10.”

Hirsch said that based on the Starz consumer, on a title-by-title basis, management didn’t think the value was there to extend the agreement. By comparison, the executive said that while the 15 movies Starz is getting from corporate parent Lionsgate, i.e. John Wicks, Borderland, Knives Out, etc., is less than the Sony agreement, the titles’ impact on Starz subscribers is greater.

“We, early on, went negotiating a pay-1 output deal [with Lionsgate] ahead of Sony,” Hirsch said. “We really looked at the data, and other than those three movies, we were paying for stuff that wasn’t really resonating with our consumer. For us the value wasn’t there.”

Indeed, Starz, which is owned by Lionsgate, ended 2020 with 28 million subscribers, which included 14.6 million streaming subs and 13.4 million linear subs — the latter down from 19.9 million at the end of 2019. The streaming sub service, which includes a $8.99 tier in the United States, and $5 internationally, grew almost 70% from 8.6 million in 2019.