Those who remember Liberty Media Chairman John Malone from the days when he was the swashbuckling King of Cable like to think of him as a strategic mastermind who still wants to shape the future of media. But lately he’s looked like a guy who simply wants to collect and trade media assets as though they’re baseball cards — especially if he can do so in a way that doesn’t also require him to pay taxes.
In presentations today and yesterday, Malone and Liberty CEO Gregory Maffei provided little to suggest that that there’s a vision behind the $1 billion offer they made last week for 70% of bookseller Barnes & Noble — or even whether they hope to manage it in a way that would complement their collection of corporate spare parts that includes QVC, Starz, and the Atlanta Braves, as well as major stakes in Sirius XM and Live Nation. Maffei told a Barclays Capital investor conference that “a lot of interesting things” can be done with B&N’s stores, including selling Nook e-readers and “Nook-related devices.” Asked whether he expects the Nook to overtake Amazon’s Kindle or simply slog ahead as the No. 2 e-reader with about 25% of the market, Maffei says “both.” Malone was a little more helpful yesterday when he told his company’s shareholders that book publishers have “a strong vested interest in not allowing too much concentration in one hand in the (e-reader) space and that should be a wind to the back of a player like Barnes & Noble.” He warned listeners not to make too much of the deal. “We’re not betting the company on it,” he says.
In other matters, Maffei says that Starz’s original programming “isn’t sufficient to differentiate (it from other premium channels) as much as we’d like.” As for Live Nation, Malone said yesterday that it “continues to be a promise, so far unfulfilled, of the synergies of putting the (ticketing and concert promotion) businesses together. That process is going to take time.”