Liberty Media CEO Lauds Recovery of QVC Japan After Natural Disaster

Greg Maffei also discusses Starz and Liberty’s $1 billion bid for Barnes & Noble.

NEW YORK – Home shopping channel QVC Japan is recovering better than expected after the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said Tuesday.

“Japan has actually been amazing to me - how quickly we were able to get back on air,” he said, speaking at the Barclays Capital Global Communications, Media, and Technology Conference. The network, whose offices were closed for about a week after the natural disaster and whose studio power grid had to be fixed and reactivated, was back on the air after 12 days, he explained.

The TV operation was hurt less and is recovering “more quickly than we had thought,” even though it will take an unknown amount of time to get back to previous levels, he said.

In previous comments, Maffei had said that QVC Japan’s distribution center appeared to be more damaged than the studio, but a closer inspection was still needed then.

After the recent launch of QVC Italy, Maffei was asked where the home shopping brand could launch next. He said the company has looked at such countries as China, Brazil, France and Spain.

Asked about premium TV arm Starz, he signaled it is still exploring potential financing arrangements for its original content. Management previously also hinted that it was looking at more digital and international distribution opportunities. "While I think Starz has great prospects and is performing well, there is certainly a case that can be made [for] a broader platform - being able to take some of the content it is now producing [overseas], on new platforms," Maffei said Tuesday.

In latest comments on Liberty Media’s $1 billion bid for Barnes & Noble a day after he and chairman John Malone had outlined the key reasons for it, Maffei touted the book retailer’s Nook e-book reader compared with’s Kindle. He praised the latest Nook’s longer battery life, smoother reading experience, as well as its price and low weight. “This is clearly what you need for Father's Day,” he told the conference.

Maffei also signaled he expects no higher bid from Liberty than its $17 per share offer. Barnes & Noble shares have gone above that price tag, suggesting investors expect a higher bid. Maffei said the stock traded around $9 a month or so ago and emphasized the price offered was a solid premium.

Meanwhile, Ron Burkle, who has been a B&N investor and has also bid on various media and entertainment assets in recent years, on Tuesday slightly increased his stake to just below 20 percent. Maffei wouldn't comment on whether Liberty has talked to B&N shareholders beyond chairman Len Riggio, who owns a 30 percent stake in the company. Liberty wants him to stay in a management role and retain his stake.

Twitter: @georgszalai