In a further sign of John Malone’s increasing European cable ambitions, Liberty Global has acquired a 12.65% stake in Dutch operator Ziggo. It’s paying 632.5M euros ($810M) for the minority stake in the Netherlands’ biggest cable company that serves around 3M households. Liberty Global is already in the Dutch cable TV business via its subsidiary UPC, the area’s second largest provider. Global said today that it considers the acquisition of the minority Ziggo stake as “an attractive opportunity to make a strategic investment in a market where it already enjoys a sizeable presence.” Earlier this month, Liberty Media agreed to pay $2.62B For 27.3% of Charter Communications in the U.S. and in February, Liberty Global said it would acquire the UK’s Virgin Media in a stock and cash deal valued at approximately $23.3B.
UPDATE 5:21 PM: Liberty Global and Virgin Media confirmed late today that Liberty will acquire Virgin Media. Here’s the release:
ENGLEWOOD, Colo.–Liberty Global, Inc. (“Liberty Global”) (NASDAQ: LBTYA, LBTYB and LBTYK) and Virgin Media Inc. (“Virgin Media”) (NASDAQ: VMED; LSE: VMED) today announced that they have entered into
Liberty Media Chairman John Malone just consolidated his power at the satellite radio company as four people friendly to his outlook joined the Sirius XM board replacing former CEO Mel Karmazin — who left last month …
UPDATE, 11:56 AM: Liberty Media chairman John Malone finally took on the big question for Starz as his company prepares to spin it off: In a Q&A session at the end of Liberty’s Investor Day presentations, he indicated that once the premium cable network company is independent it likely will decide to sell itself to another company. “Everybody can use a big brother,” Malone says. “There are substantial synergies for Starz working together with various potential media partners. Certainly one of the opportunities is for [CEO Chris Albrecht] and the board to explore other relationships….Liberty can’t provide Starz with much in the way of operational synergies in the U.S.”
PREVIOUS, 10:52 AM: Starz’s new slogan is “Starz: Taking You Places,” CEO Chris Albrecht told Liberty Media investors today at the company’s annual gathering to review its holdings. Liberty CEO Greg Maffei says execs expect a spinoff to take place by year end.
The satellite radio company’s shares are up 11.4% since early Thursday while other NASDAQ stocks collectively are down 4.4%. What’s going on? Well, it seems that many analysts who attended Liberty Media’s annual dog-and-pony show for them on Thursday came away convinced that Sirius XM is preparing to see John Malone lift his company’s 40% stake well past 50%. He has to wait until March to avoid taking a tax hit on such a move — and we all know how much Malone hates to pay taxes. After that there’d be a tax advantage: Sirius has $8B in net operating losses that could be used to shelter future payments. That’s great now, although the losses “sucked” when the company was racking them up, CEO Mel Karmazin told Liberty investors at last week’s gathering. So, is Liberty interested in buying Sirius? A lot of comments that Liberty CEO Greg Maffei made last week sure make it sound that way. “There are few businesses that I have as much confidence in,” he said. ”Boy, it’s got a heck of a tail wind behind it. Find me another business” with as much opportunity. Sirius’ first consumer rate hike, coming in January, ”is a great opportunity and there’s a potential for more…(Profit) margins will expand….It’s our kind of business.” He added that his company
This will give Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and other executives a lot to talk about later this morning at the company’s annual dog-and-pony show for investors. The decision to convert Liberty Starz and Liberty Capital from tracking stocks into a single asset-based stock should diminish the growing sense that Malone was fattening up Starz for a big deal — possibly a sale. The channel has been investing heavily in original programming, and Liberty Starz just unveiled a $1.5B credit facility. Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible says that the Street “likely will be mixed in how it interprets the news” of the change in Liberty Starz’ status. Meanwhile, Liberty’s $1.25B stock repurchase “should help ease (investors’) concern.” And hope springs eternal: Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce says that “in time we would expect M&A activity with these assets to pick up again.”
Here’s the company’s release:
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Liberty Media Corporation (Nasdaq: LCAPA, LCAPB, LSTZA, LSTZB) (“Liberty”) today announced that its board of directors has unanimously voted to eliminate Liberty’s tracking stock structure by converting each share of its Liberty Starz common stock into 0.88129 of a share of the corresponding series of Liberty Capital common stock, effective at 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on November 28, 2011 (the “Conversion Date”). Cash will be paid in lieu of fractional shares.
Analysts attending Liberty Media’s annual investor day on Thursday will be listening carefully when Starz CEO Chris Albrecht discusses his channel’s plans. His boss, Liberty Chairman John Malone, loves to buy, sell, and swap assets — as long as he can do so without paying a big tax bill. And there’s a growing belief that Malone is positioning Starz for a deal as the company focuses its branding efforts around more than 50 hours of original programs — including Boss, Magic City, Spartacus, and Da Vinci’s Demons — instead of theatrical films from Disney and Sony. For example, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield says in a blog post today that “a transaction may…be coming to turn Starz into an asset based security” instead of just part of the Liberty Starz tracking stock. Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible says that Starz’ “strategic benefits could make it an M&A target.” Maxim Group’s John Tinker agrees that Starz “should be merged into a larger entity.”
Albrecht reinforced those views recently by talking up his desire to have the channel stand out as a premium service. On Friday he elaborated at the Monaco Media Forum on points he made earlier in the week on the Liberty earnings call: The channel scrapped its effort to negotiate a new streaming deal with Netflix because it didn’t set Starz apart from the video pack.
UPDATE, 12: 00 PM: No word from Starz execs about when they might announce a digital streaming deal to replace the one with Netflix, which expires in February. “There are a lot of conversations going on,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht told analysts today. “It’s a road that needs to be evaluated almost on a weekly basis.” The company hopes to license programs from its premium channel to a premium-priced streaming service – meaning, one that charges more than Netflix. As more companies enter the online video market “they’ll begin to segment and differentiate,” says Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei. “That’s something we would embrace.” Albrecht said that “we didn’t believe it was appropriate to have our products included in a low-cost service.” Do they really expect lots of consumers to pay high prices in this weak economy — especially with the anemic numbers cable and satellite companies are posting for premium channels? At Starz the 3Q sub figure was
It’s “more likely than not” that new online video streaming providers such as Amazon will offer some programming on a premium tier — a contrast with Netflix’s single-price package – Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said this morning at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference. He broadly hinted that his company’s desire to charge extra for Starz was a big reason why the premium channel recently ended negotiations to extend its carriage deal with Netflix. The current arrangement, he says, is “inconsistent” with the way consumers receive Starz on pay TV.
More broadly, Maffei says that Liberty is on track to split off its Liberty Capital and Liberty Starz tracking stocks by tomorrow now that it has beat back a court challenge by bondholders. The deal transfers some assets to the spun-off companies, violating some bond agreements. But the Delaware Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower court decision that said the split-off is OK because it isn’t part of what it called an “overall scheme” to hurt bondholders. That likely won’t change the overall strategy for the company that’s controlled by the famously tax-averse former cable titan John Malone — and that some analysts say is little more than a portfolio of stock holdings. “Finding things to buy at attractive prices is the biggest chalenge we have today,” Maffei says.
In May, John Malone’s Liberty offered to buy all of Barnes & Noble for $1B. But the offer stalled and the book retailer said Thursday that the takeover talks had been ditched in light of the $204M investment agreement. …