Report: Lionsgate Considering Spinning Off Starz

Lionsgate is reportedly considering spinning off or selling its Starz subsidiary.

Lionsgate, which acquired Starz in 2016 for $4 billion, is looking to leverage the pay-TV and $8.99 monthly over-the-top video subsidiary in an era of burgeoning streaming video, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

Specifically, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio/distributor is following the corporate playbook Viacom pursued in 2004 when it spun off its controlling stake in Blockbuster Video for a $1.3 billion impairment charge.

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Lionsgate reported about $2.9 billion in debt at the end of the most-recent fiscal period. The company could offload the debt through a special-purpose acquisition vehicle — a public company created to acquire a specific asset.

Earlier this year, CBS reportedly offered $5 billion for Starz, which Lionsgate considered too low. Two years ago, Hasbro looked to acquire Starz but negotiations ended without a deal.

Lionsgate also has other reasons to consider offloading Starz. With pay-TV operators looking to rework carriage agreements with content holders, DirecTV reduced the amount it pays Lionsgate to carry Starz and Starz Encore.

Now Comcast is reportedly looking to drop Starz when its carriage deal expires at the end of the year. Loss of the nation’s No. 1 cable operator could result in Starz losing millions of subscribers, or more than $225 million in annual revenue.

 

Disney, Amazon in Dispute Over Fire TV App Ad Revenue

Amazon is much more than an e-commerce behemoth. The Seattle-based company is a major distributor of third-party streaming video services and proprietary content — the former through Amazon Channels.

So when Disney partnered with Amazon to distribute its media apps via the latter’s Fire TV streaming media device, it wasn’t about to relinquish ad revenue from the apps — even if Amazon is reportedly the second-largest distributor of streaming TV apps.

Fire TV, which trails only Roku in Q2 2019 streaming media device shipments, according to Strategy Analytics, enables consumers to stream Prime Video, Netflix, Sling TV and Hulu, among others, to the television.

Amazon wants a piece of Disney’s ad revenue from its branded apps — including ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel — according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited resources familiar to the situation.

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Disney is resisting the request, a move that could see its apps disappear from Fire TV. Indeed, the platform is not slated to carry Disney’s pending subscription streaming service, Disney+.

In the burgeoning over-the-top video ecosystem, media companies and tech companies are grappling with distribution issues — notably carriage revenue agreements — typically reserved for the pay-TV landscape.

Indeed, with Google and Amazon competing for the identical third-party ad revenue, neither offer its proprietary (YouTube, Prime Video) video platform on the other’s platform.

“The traditional negotiations between cable operators and media companies are the most vicious negotiations that I’ve ever been exposed to. And now you see that world colliding with these tech behemoths,” said Steve Shannon, chief executive of Tetra TV, which operates a marketplace for ads on streaming video, told The Journal.

When Amazon launched Fire TV in 2014, it didn’t seek a cut of third-party ad revenue. But five years later, Amazon takes significant revenue cuts from third-party streaming services offered on its Channels platform for Prime members.

The strategy is now being emulated on Fire TV, with the platform reportedly seeking upwards of 40% of third-party app ad-revenue. Disney apparently is willing to offer 10%, according to WSJ.

Meanwhile, Roku reportedly demands as much as 30% of revenue from third-parties operating on its platform. Disney-owned Hulu pays Roku about 15%.

Until the dispute is resolved, Disney+ will be available via Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Chromecast, Sony PS4, Xbox One and Roku.

Stankey: AT&T Keeping DirecTV, Integral to HBO Max Launch

John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia and COO of parent AT&T, Sept. 24 sought to dispel media reports the telecom is looking to jettison satellite operator DirecTV to appease an activist investor and reduce debt.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Stankey said DirecTV would “be important” as WarnerMedia rolls out new subscription streaming video service, HBO Max, early next year.

Specifically, the executive said subscriber data from DirecTV would help WarnerMedia target the appropriate users for HBO Max.

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“We’re constantly looking at the [business] portfolio,” Stankey said. “That’s the normal course of business and it’s not unique to DirecTV.”

The Journal previously reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was considering spinning off DirecTV, which has lost more than 1 million pay-TV subs as consumers continue to embrace over-the-top video and alternative forms of home entertainment.

Indeed, AT&T has 3 million fewer pay-TV subs since acquiring DirecTV in 2015.

Stankey suggested DirecTV has suffered by not being able to bundle high-speed Internet to consumers as competitor Comcast does.

“Where we’ve built better broadband, the business is performing just fine,” he said.

Stankey also said that Stephenson met with investor Elliott Management Co., which holds more than $3.2 billion worth of AT&T stock, to seek a compromise regarding sought management changes — including replacing the CEO and COO.

Stankey told The Journal there are no plans to replace his position at WarnerMedia or the CEO’s of AT&T.

“I’m not looking to find my successor right at the moment,” he said.

Th executive also alluded to HBO Max being offered at premium price compared to Netflix’s $12.99, Apple TV+ ($4.99) and Disney+($6.99).

With the current HBO Now priced at $15 monthly, HBO Max, which will offer original and catalog programming, will be the most expensive SVOD on the market.

“Higher quality should warrant a slightly higher price,” Stankey said.

 

WarnerMedia Readying $16-$17 SVOD Service Focused on HBO, Cinemax, Warner Bros. Movies

WarnerMedia reportedly plans to launch a subscription streaming video service later this year revolving around HBO, Cinemax and Warner Bros. movies — and priced from $16 to $17 monthly.

The unnamed service, which will bow in beta later this year, would join similar SVOD efforts from Disney ($6.99 Disney+) and Apple aimed at competing against Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the situation.

NBC Universal is readying an ad-supported VOD service for Xfinity subscribers in 2020, which would be available separately to consumers for a monthly fee.

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Notably, WarnerMedia’s service would cost slightly more than what HBO Now ($14.99) and Cinemax ($12.99) do now separately — the latter charged to pay-TV subscribers.

WarnerMedia, which formed following AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, is also eyeing ad-supported VOD service.

The rush to over-the-top distribution comes as AT&T continues to hemorrhage pay-TV subscribers among its DirecTV and AT&T U-verse platforms. Standalone online TV service, DirecTV Now, for the first time lost subscribers in the most-recent fiscal period as well.

Indeed, AT&T is scrambling to find an OTT product that resonates with consumers. Late last month, it inked a joint venture deal with The Chernin Group aimed at investing $500 million into both ad-supported and subscription-based online video businesses.

“Combining our expertise in network infrastructure, mobile, broadband and video with The Chernin Group’s management and expertise in content, distribution, and monetization models in online video creates the opportunity for us to develop a compelling offering in the OTT space,” John Stankey, CEO of WarnerMedia, said in a statement.