Lionsgate Q3 Home Entertainment Revenue Falls, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht Departs

Lionsgate Feb. 7 reported third-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2018) home entertainment revenue from movies of $149.7 million, down 31% from revenue of $189 million during the previous-year period. Through nine months of the fiscal year, movie revenue fell 22% to $462 million compared to $588.6 million last year.

Sales of DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies fell 35% to $68 million from $104 million, while digital sales dipped about 4% to $81.7 million from $85 million.

Through nine months, packaged media movie revenue is down 33% to $209 million from $311.5 million last year. Digital sales are down less 9% at $253 million from $277.1 million.

Sales of TV shows on disc reached $2.5 million, compared to $4.1 million during the previous-year period. Digital sales reached $10.9 million, down 58% from $25.7 million last year.

Motion Picture segment revenue reached $362.6 million. Segment profit decreased 19.9% to $43.5 million, reflecting underperformance of certain titles in fiscal 2019 compared to the outperformance of Wonder in the prior year quarter.

Media Networks segment revenue increased to $366.8 million due to strong OTT (i.e. Starz) subscriber growth. Segment profit increased 9.6% to $134.1 million from the prior-year quarter. Overall domestic subscribers were sequentially consistent in the quarter at 25.1 million and up 1.1 million year over year.

Starz had a strong revenue and subscriber quarter, ending the quarter with 25.1 million overall domestic subscribers, which was consistent sequentially and up 1.1 million subscribers from the prior year quarter.  Starz achieved strong over-the-top (OTT) subscriber growth for the sequential quarter as well as year-over-year.

“We’re pleased to report a strong quarter with significant free cash flow and continued revenue and subscriber growth at Starz,” CEO Jon Feltheimer said in a statement.  “As we refill our feature film and television pipelines at a robust pace and take our integration of Lionsgate and Starz to the next level, all signs are pointing to strong growth in the year ahead.”

Feltheimer gave a shoutout to departing Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, who helped transition the pay-TV and OTT platform following Lionsgate’s $4.4 billion acquisition in December 2016.

“[Chris transformed] Starz from a legacy media network to a forward-looking streaming platform,” Feltheimer said on the fiscal call.  “He worked closely with me to position Starz for the next phase of its growth and he leaves behind a strong programming slate and a talented leadership team. I’m confident we will maintain our momentum without missing a beat.”

China Tops U.K. in TV Content Production, Trailing the U.S.

China has overtaken the United Kingdom in television programming production, becoming the second-largest market in the world after the United States, according to new data from IHS Markit.

TV programming expenditures in China, including online platforms, hit 73 billion yuan ($10.9 billion) in 2017, followed by the U.K. at $10 billion, while the U.S. led spending with $58.3 billion.

“The growth in China’s TV programming spending is largely due to aggressive content investment by online companies Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent,” Kia Ling, senior research analyst at IHS Markit, said in a statement. “These three giants have upped their spending on content origination and acquisition for their respective video platforms iQiyi, Youku Tudou and Tencent Video.”

Broadcaster advertising revenue growth in China plateaued in 2017, reaching 83 billion yuan ($12.3 billion), but online revenue is on the rise, driven by greater video advertising and subscription income. TV broadcasters spent 43 billion yuan ($6.4 billion) on programming in 2017, compared to 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) spent by online platform companies.

“As digital entertainment viewership gains traction, advertisers are gradually moving more of their budgets to digital platforms,” Teoh said. “We expect online companies to overtake TV broadcaster spending in 2018, if the content creation spree persists.”

Original programming made up 49% of all Chinese programming in 2017, followed by acquired programming at 46%, and sports programming at 5%.

IHS Markit expects this split to remain relatively consistent over the next five years.

“Broadcasters and online platform companies are increasingly creating their own content, not only to lure paying subscribers, but also for merchandising, mobile game development and other new revenue streams,” said Teoh. “In addition, distribution of linear TV and online platform content can generate lucrative returns, in both domestic and foreign markets.”

Despite the increased focus on original programming in China, acquired content will remain an integral part of broadcasters’ content strategy, as many companies still rely heavily on acquired content. The large and growing consumer appetite for global sporting events, particularly online, is also expected to boost spending on sports programming.

“While online platform companies are increasing China’s TV programming expenditure, they should be concerned by user retention and sustainability of content costs,” added Teoh. “In order to retain existing subscribers and attract new ones, online platform companies are investing heavily to create and acquire exclusive content. Unlike Netflix, these companies still rely substantially on advertising and sponsorship. If the cost of content continues to surge, such aggressive investment will become unsustainable.”

Report: TV Production Mergers on the Rise

With ownership of TV programming rights a vital asset in the burgeoning demand for episodic programing across broadcast, pay-TV and subscription streaming, production company mergers have grown nearly 20% compound annual growth rate in the past five years – from 42 deals in 2013 to 102 deals in 2017, according to new data from IHS Markit.

Citing ongoing advertising pressure and audiences migrating to on-demand platforms, IHS says broadcasters are exploring new revenue sources from content production and distribution. With increased competition between traditional linear channels and online players, creating TV content is a stronger option than licensing from third parties.

The United Kingdom ranked the most active market in terms of number of mergers and acquisitions. However, in terms of deal value, the United States and China led.

“Both large and small companies are trying to find ways to internationalize, which is why Chinese companies have been gobbling up production studios in the United States, and the major Hollywood studios have been building local production networks in key foreign markets,” Tim Westcott, director of research and analysis for programing, said in a statement.

Increased investment in content by Netflix, Amazon and other content buyers has spearheaded M&A activity among content creators. Indeed, deals for scripted producers have grown nearly 30% — from 15 deals in 2013 to 54 in 2017. In comparison, acquisitions of unscripted producers have grown 8%, due to the shift of M&A activity to scripted producers.

The top mergers and acquisitions were led by ITV Studios and Fremantle Media, both of which have invested in a large number of start-up content-production companies. Of the 77 start-up companies launched between 2013 and 2017, 32 were drama specialists. Nearly half of these 32 drama specialists were launched in 2017, reflecting a significant surge in scripted drama investment.

Liberty Global invested in global producers All3Media, ITV and Lionsgate, while Vivendi took an interest in Banijay Group and 21st Century Fox acquired a 50% stake in Endemol Shine.

“These deals … highlight the strategic importance of owning content producers, for all those wanting to attract and retain viewers, subscribers and the revenue they deliver,” said senior research analyst Aled Evans. “The global producer networks offer these start-ups co-production finance mechanisms, worldwide contacts and funding. In return, the investor company gains rights for programming to sell internationally.”