Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer: Studio's Top Priority Creating Starz Programming

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Jon Feltheimer

"Our biggest opportunities lie in what Lionsgate and Starz can do together," he told shareholders in Toronto.

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer on Tuesday used the backdrop of the Toronto International Film Festival to tell investors his studio's top job is creating more "must have" programming for the premium TV channel Starz.

"As pleased as we are with the success of our film and television businesses, there is no higher priority for us than Starz," Feltheimer told his company's annual shareholders meeting in Toronto. Lionsgate acquired Starz for $4.4 billion to create a global content engine.

The studio boss said the Lionsgate movie business was "coming off a great year" with box-office winners like The Big Sick and the Labor Day performer The Hitman’s Bodyguard. That follows Lionsgate's expanding and strengthening relationships with partners like CBS Films, Amazon Studios and StudioCanal.

"But our biggest opportunities lie in what Lionsgate and Starz can do together," Feltheimer added during Lionsgate's annual general meeting at the Shangri La Hotel, just as A-list Hollywood actors walked red carpets and introduce TIFF premieres in surrounding streets and theaters.

The exec said the studio focus would be on owning more of Starz's original content since Lionsgate acquired the premium cable network and set about expanding its slate of original programming in the coming years, Feltheimer touted Starz's expanding distribution footprint and "steady subscriber growth" on the back of popular shows like the flagship Power series, Outlander, American Gods and The White Princess.

The over-the-top subscriber growth at Starz comes ahead of possible expansion of its video streaming service Starz Play Arabia beyond the Middle East and North Africa. Missing from the Lionsgate shareholders meeting was billionaire investor John Malone. 

Besides sitting in Feltheimer's boardroom, Malone holds voting control of Liberty Media and Liberty Global and has big stakes in Lionsgate and Discovery Communications as he moves to consolidate the pay TV industry in the face of fast-growing competition from new streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

The hookup between Lionsgate and Starz continued a consolidation trend that has seen mergers between AT&T and Time Warner, Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks Interactive and Sinclair and Tribune, some of which are still pending regulatory review.

Feltheimer said the first phase of combining Lionsgate and Starz was complete, with "greater than anticipated cost synergies." In the second phase of the Starz strategy, Feltheimer promised "a lineup of premium Lionsgate series that will build on the success of the Starz platform."

The first greenlighted series is The Rook, a drama from Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and a collaboration with Liberty Global. "Nashville, Greenleaf, Graves and Dear White People are just a few of the series that were renewed during a year in which we placed a top-rated show on seven different networks," Feltheimer said, citing a number of Lionsgate series.

"We expect this strength to continue with series like Step Up, The Kingkiller Chronicle and the Continental Hotel television spinoff of John Wick, all in development or production," he added. Feltheimer also talked up his studio's expanded moves into subscription VOD services with offerings like Pantaya, a newly launched Netflix for Latinos; Tribeca Shortlist; Comic-Con HQ; and Kevin Hart's Laugh Out Loud VOD platform.

Feltheimer said efforts to diversify the studio away from its core theatrical business are an attempt to get Lionsgate ahead of the digital curve. "Our world is changing as content creators, distributors and technology companies take on roles that often overlap and new buyers emerge for our content every day," he told investors.

But even with the challenges of fragmenting box office and cord-cutting in TV, Feltheimer said his studio would continue searching for new opportunities to embrace and capitalize on change.

"And we will continue to turn industry challenges into Lionsgate opportunities by punching above our weight, finding ways to be disrupters rather than disrupted, and keeping the needs of our consumers and the expectations of our shareholders foremost in our minds," he told investors.

Lionsgate traditionally holds its annual shareholders meeting in Toronto midway through the Toronto Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.