×

Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won’t Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure.

According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active role in overseeing the channel.

As part of his increased involvement, Feltheimer is believed to have had exploratory meetings a few months ago with several Hollywood players — including YouTube global head of original content Susanne Daniels and former HBO programming president Michael Lombardo — to potentially install a new creative at Starz. (Lombardo isn’t believed to be interested, however, and said to be happy with his current job building out Film 44’s TV slate.)

That person would work alongside Starz chief operating officer Jeffrey Hirsch, and the two executives would share day-to-day oversight and report to Feltheimer. That two-pronged structure would allow Hirsch to continue to oversee the business and operations side of Starz, while the new exec would focus on programming. What that might mean for Starz programming president Carmi Zlotnik is unknown, although he could segue into more of a production role.

Feltheimer and Lionsgate have not been in a rush to name an exec to the top creative post, but are believed to now be ramping up their search. For his first step after Albrecht’s exit, Feltheimer moved forward in merging some of Starz’s key physical production units, as well as legal and some business affairs and finance, under Lionsgate Television Group chairman Kevin Beggs and president Sandra Stern. That integration is ongoing.

Also perhaps giving Lionsgate reason to hold off on major changes: ongoing scuttlebutt that CBS may be interested in purchasing Starz. CBS previously offered $5 billion for the channel, and Lionsgate is believed to have countered with a $5.5 billion price tag. There’s also media speculation that Lionsgate might turn around and pursue a merger with MGM.

Insiders stress that CBS and MGM aren’t factors in why Feltheimer hasn’t yet made post-Albrecht executive changes. But the uncertainty may limit the number of candidates interested in taking a chance on the job until it’s clear who they might report to in a year.

Other observers say Lionsgate hasn’t made a move because there’s still internal conversation on the direction of Starz, as execs such as Feltheimer, Hirsch and Beggs voice their opinions on what Starz needs — and what executive might be right for the job, depending on what it is.

Albrecht, who was forced out at HBO in 2007 after being arrested and charged with assaulting a girlfriend, joined Starz in 2010 when it was owned by Liberty Media. Liberty eventually spun off Starz into a separate business, which Albrecht continued to run.

Under Albrecht’s watch, Starz grew to more than 25 million subscribers. He helped push the premium cable network into an original fare strategy including “Power,” “Outlander,” “American Gods,” “Black Sails,” “Ash vs. Evil Dead” and “Vida.” The success of “Power,” which features a primarily black cast, and critical acclaim for shows like the Latino-themed “Vida” have enabled Starz to position itself as the home of “original programming for under-served audiences.”

Observers say Starz would be wise to lean further into those demographics, particularly as it’s unlikely the channel will have the same kind of resources to compete against the volume of an HBO or a Netflix. And if it does go that route, Lionsgate might contemplate pursuing an executive with experience in targeting African American, Latino and female audiences. 

Lionsgate acquired Starz in December 2016 in a $4.4 billion deal. Albrecht was said to be looking to keep Starz somewhat independent, while Feltheimer wanted a more active role in overseeing the channel. That clash led to Albrecht’s exit earlier this year.

And now that Starz is a fully owned company inside Lionsgate and no longer on its own, the CEO role is seen as unnecessary. 

Starz offers 17 pay TV channels (including Starz Encore) in the United States and has 4 million domestic streaming customers. The channel has been looking to expand its international footprint via its StarzPlay streaming app, available now in 51 countries. Feltheimer has pledged increased investment in Starz, and said in a May earnings call that Lionsgate was “executing on [a] plan” for the network.

At the same time, Lionsgate has been trimming costs, including announcing layoffs in its film division earlier this year, following a string of disappointments at the box office (with the exception of recent release “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum”). That’s led some to speculate that Lionsgate may be ripe for acquisition or slimming down to prepare for one. 

In December, Deutsche Bank analyst Bryan Kraft upgraded Lionsgate stock from “hold” to “buy” based on the potential he saw for Starz’s international strategy. “Starz’s lack of advertising and fully distributed cable network exposure gives it a more secularly insulated business model than other media companies, and we believe there is some potential for Lionsgate to participate in industry consolidation in a manner that creates value for shareholders,” he wrote.

Can Lionsgate find the right creative leader for the pay TV network despite all these distractions? Perhaps if the Starz perfectly align.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 15 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 15 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan,

    Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan, at No Charge in U.S. and U.K.

    Just days after reports emerged that Spotify is aiming to increase the price of its family plan in its home market of Scandinavia, the streaming giant announced an upgrade to the plan — with no price increase in the U.S. and U.K., where it remains at $14.99 and £15, respectively. A rep for the company [...]

  • Untold Stories Film Program

    Robert De Niro's Company Files $6 Million Suit Against Ex-Employee

    Robert De Niro’s company has filed a $6 million lawsuit against a former employee, accusing her of embezzling money and binge-watching Netflix while on the job. Canal Productions, De Niro’s loan-out company, also accuses Chase Robinson of racking up exorbitant hotel and restaurant charges and using millions of De Niro’s frequent flyer miles for her [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Jay-Z Gets Shade From Kaepernick, Support From Cardi B as NFL Fallout Continues

    UPDATED: If anyone expected the drama surrounding Jay-Z’s deal with the NFL to calm down over the weekend, they were mistaken, as controversy and conversation continued to swirl. The situation grew even more intense late Friday when TMZ reported that Jay is looking to acquire a majority interest in an unspecified NFL team, which would [...]

  • Curiosity Stream Altice

    Altice USA Pacts With John Hendricks' CuriosityStream Service

    Altice USA has set a deal with John Hendricks’ CuriosityStream to expand distribution of the science- and history-focused subscription streaming service. The deal will make CuriosityStream available to all Altice USA’s 4.9 million customers across 21 states, including a big cluster serving New York and Connecticut. Altice also plans to add the CuriosityStream app to [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content