M&E Connections

Lionsgate Execs Eye Huge SVOD Growth Opportunity in Starzplay

Lionsgate continues to be upbeat about its Starzplay international subscription video on demand (SVOD) streaming service and sees increased growth opportunity from it as the service it launched one year ago expands onto new platforms and into new markets globally, according to company executives.

“By July 1, we’ll be in 51 countries making us one of the three leading pure-play subscription video on-demand services in the world,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said of Starzplay May 23 on earnings call for the company’s fourth quarter (ended March 31).

Only a few hours later, the company announced May 24 that Starzplay was now available to consumers across Europe and Latin America, including the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Columbia as an Apple TV channel in the Apple TV app for Apple TV, iPad, iPhone and Samsung smart TVs. (https://mediaroom.starz.com/news/starzplay-now-available-in-the-apple-tv-app-across-europe-and-latin-america)

“Last year, we told you about the opportunity to launch Starzplay… in 15 countries within three years,” Feltheimer said on the call. “Today, I’m pleased to announce that Starzplay, including Starzplay Arabia, is live with active subscribers in 42 countries,” he said.

The company grew overall domestic Starz subscribers by 1.2 million during the past year for a total of 24.7 million, including 4 million paid domestic over-the-top (OTT) subscribers, “a number that reflects in part our recent successful launches on Apple, Google, Roku and Hulu,” he pointed out. The company also now has 3 million international subscribers, including more than 1 million at Starzplay Arabia, he noted.

There’s a large “market opportunity” for the company with SVOD, he told analysts, explaining: “With only 5 percent penetration of subscription video on-demand services worldwide, we believe that the international market is a $45 billion opportunity for us that will result in between 15 [million] and 25 million new Starzplay international subscribers by 2025.”

Lionsgate is also upbeat about the service because it has “great global partners,” including Amazon Prime and Apple; “great local partners,” including Liberty Global’s Virgin Media in the U.K. and Orange and Vodafone in Spain; and “lots of content,” including a combination of Starz original TV programs and Lionsgate’s 17,000-title library of movies and TV shows, including the hit “John Wick” film series, he said.

“We’re off to a great start scaling rapidly across multiple territories to give us an early mover advantage ahead of many other premium players,” he told analysts, adding: “To preserve that early mover advantage, we will continue to lean into the Starzplay International expansion with additional investment…. We view this as an investment in our future. The Starzplay international expansion is an exciting next step in creating an asset with lasting and incremental long term value.”

“We expect Starzplay to reach profitability in fiscal ’23,” CFO James Barge went on to tell analysts, adding: “Most importantly, we think the returns are compelling. We plan to raise equity against Starzplay to help finance this international rollout and manage our overall leverage to a target of four times by the end of fiscal ’20.”

Feltheimer also expressed optimism about his company’s film and TV slates, pointing to the strong opening week performance of “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” and the fact that the company plans to release “John Wick 4” May 21, 2021 and will be launching a spin-off “Continental” TV series on Starz.

However, Lionsgate shares were down May 24 after it reported Q4 results in which revenue fell to $913.7 million from $1 billion a year earlier and it posted a $155.2 million loss (72 cents a share loss) after reporting an $91.3 million profit (41 cents a share) in Q4 the prior year. For the full fiscal year, movie revenue tumbled 20% to $1.5 billion, while television production revenue fell 11% to $921 million. However, Media Networks revenue grew 4% to $1.5 billion for the year.

In the wake of published reports claiming Lionsgate turned down a $5 billion offer from CBS for Starz, Feltheimer declined an analyst’s request to comment on the possibility of Lionsgate and Starz splitting. “We don’t comment on M&A,” he said, adding: “We have a plan” that “we’re super confident about” and the company is “executing on the plan.” But he conceded that “we always have to listen to opportunities” that could create potential “shareholder value.”