No. 40: Liberty Media

Englewood, Colo.

Revenue: $1.53 billion

Net Profit: $1.49 billion

Liberty Media, an investment company not a straight-up media conglomerate, is one of Wall Street’s quiet favorites largely because of the acumen of its highly respected chairman and founder, John Malone.

Over the years, he’s put together an intriguing combination of programming and distribution assets in the U.S. and overseas. He’s got plenty of cash and has just filed to raise $2 billion more for future deals, and keeps investors and rivals guessing as to his next move.

Liberty owns pay TV group Starz Encore Media outright, along with 49% of Discovery Communications, a growing cable empire with a half-dozen channels and $1.8 billion in revenue last year. Malone owns a big chunk of News Corp. and is front and center in Rupert Murdoch’s plans for a new satellite subsidiary called Sky Global Networks. He’s got pieces of QVC, E!, Telemundo, AOL Time Warner and USA Networks along with international cable heavyweights UnitedGloalCom and Telewest.

Overseas cable is clearly a core Liberty strategy nowadays with assets held within Liberty Media Intl., which just bought a group of German cable systems from Deutsche Telekom and, some speculate, is looking to become a gatekeeper in Europe.

Investors and media players expect even more movement from Liberty since being spun off from parent AT&T on Aug. 10. Malone joined with AT&T when he sold the telco giant his cable company Tele-Communications several years ago. He recently resigned from the AT&T board.

Beware of the numbers, however. Given Liberty’s hybrid nature they’re far from simple. What the company calls its “comprehensive” profit/loss was a negative $5.5 billion in 2000 including $202 million in foreign currency translation and $6.75 billion in unrealized holding losses. Revenue for the attributed, or nonpublic assets like Starz Encore and Discovery, was $4.2 billion.

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