5 Possible Plays After Lionsgate-Starz Deal

Murray Close/LIONSGATE

Analysts see the 'Hunger Games' studio's acquisition of Starz kicking off another round of industry consolidation, as rival content players look to cut costs and remain competitive.

As of its big announcement on Thursday, Lionsgate is set to acquire Starz for $4.4 billion — a deal that comes just two months after Comcast's NBCUniversal agreed to buy DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion. All this activity has market watchers asking: Who's next?

Here are some possibilities:

1. Analysts seem almost giddy over the prospect that CBS and Viacom could reconnect after splitting a decade ago. Les Moonves, the CBS CEO, would be the favorite to run the combined company, given Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman is on the outs with Sumner Redstone, the chairman emeritus of both companies. The re-combination would create a content powerhouse that gets Viacom's cable TV channels and its Paramount film studio on better footing against the likes of NBCU and 21st Century Fox. "TV network groups face an increasingly uncertain future as their core profit driver, the pay-TV bundle, evolves, shrinks and faces increasingly consolidated and emboldened MVPDs," Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne wrote Thursday in the wake of the $4.4 billion deal for Starz by Lionsgate.

2. Prior to Lionsgate stepping up to the plate, media execs and bankers batted around the notion that AMC Networks would buy Starz. The owner of channels like AMC, SundanceTV, WE tv and IFC may well be among the next dominoes to fall for its top-quality content. With a market value of $4.1 billion, lots of buyers could find it relatively easy to swallow the pure-play content company famous for its cult dramas, including Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

3. Food Network owner Scripps Networks Interactive is seen as another "free radical," in billionaire investor John Malone's parlance, that could, with its $8 billion market cap, be an acquirer or a target of a larger company. Ironically, the long-awaited deal by Lionsgate for Starz was complicated by both media companies seeing their shares fall (the latter's stock is down 11 percent so far this year, and the former's is off 38 percent). Scripps Networks, which also owns HGTV and DIY Network, doesn't have that problem: Its stock is up 13 percent so far this year.

4. Malone's universe doesn't only include Starz and Lionsgate, but also Discovery Communications. It, too, could be a buyer or seller. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said Discovery, like most media companies, needs to reduce its debt load and expenses, and such savings could come easier as part of a larger entity. "While many of our companies have finally begun to acknowledge the structural changes facing their businesses, the capital structures are still built for the good-old days," he said. "Leverage is great for equity holders when companies are growing and the future is stable; not so in the opposite."

5. Companies looking to save money on relatively distressed new-media assets might be kicking the tires on Pandora or Twitter. The former has a market cap of $2.9 billion while the latter is at $11.8 billion. Both are much cheaper than they were, given Twitter, the social network, is off 65 percent compared to its 52-week high while Pandora, the digital music company, is down 45 percent from its high. Pandora was the subject of takeover rumors three months ago, with an alleged price of $25 per share. On Friday, shares traded at $12.45. As for Twitter, News Corp, Google and Facebook are rumored to be interested.