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One of Hollywood’s stranger arranged marriages is coming to an end. After two years of reporting to Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer, Starz chief Chris Albrecht said Feb. 1 that he will exit his cable home of nearly a decade in March. Albrecht’s departure leaves Starz without the driving force behind its original programming push and OTT expansion.
At the same time, it finds Lionsgate with a real opportunity to vertically integrate its TV divisions. Paramount to the separation, say insiders, is a clash between how Feltheimer, 67, and Albecht, 66, sought to run the business. The relationship between the former pals is said to have devolved quickly.
“They saw things very differently,” says one source close to the matter. And, as several inside the company, including Albrecht, have noted, two CEOs became one too many.
Feltheimer is believed to have been frustrated with Albrecht’s reluctance to cede precious few hours of original programming and realize the benefits of merging its production entities — or, at the very least, prioritizing Lionsgate fare (as he has Starz productions) in a bid for increased ownership. “Lionsgate was a competitor to Starz under Chris,” notes a source with business at the network.
In the two years since the acquisition, Stephenie Meyer’s still-gestating The Rook is the only Lionsgate project to land a series order at Starz. Nothing on the air at the premium network is a Lionsgate production, either. For now, Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch will take the reins and work closely with Feltheimer. Lionsgate is said to be open to hiring from the outside to fill Albrecht’s void, but one source is confident no one will serve in that exact capacity again.
Starz’s value to Lionsgate cannot be downplayed. Under Albrecht, the cable suite hit record cable growth (25.1 million subscribers) and launched a robust streaming platform (3 million subscribers). Albrecht greenlit commercial hits such as Outlander and Power, the latter also blessing Lionsgate with an overall deal for in-demand showrunner Courtney A. Kemp.
Just two years after being absorbed by Lionsgate for $4.4 billion, TV easily eclipsing the Canadian studio’s flagging film efforts, Starz accounts for nearly 75 percent of Lionsgate EBITDA. “We see this as a substantial loss for Lionsgate and Starz which will add a great deal of uncertainty to the sustainability of Starz’s growth,” Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger wrote in a Feb. 4 note. That same day, Lionsgate stock closed down 4 percent, trading for $17.18 a share — roughly half of its year-ago price tag, as Wall Street continues to speculate the company is prepping for a sale.
As for Albrecht’s future, the exec is vocal about his desire for a next chapter — but some argue that the Wall Street darling comes with substantial baggage in the #MeToo era. Albrecht pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery in 2007 after Las Vegas police allegedly caught him choking his then-girlfriend. And near the start of his 22-year stint at HBO, that company paid out a $400,000-plus settlement to a woman who worked for Albrecht and accused him of choking her.
Speaking with GQ in 2010, Albrecht noted he had “difficult love relationships with women.” Industry vetting has changed dramatically since Albrecht was last on the market. He should expect to revisit these events with any potential employer.
A version of this story also appears in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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