Cable Operators

John Malone Heaps Praise on Roberts

9/20/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Cable legend and
Liberty Media chairman
John Malone, no stranger
to big deals himself, heaped
praise on another dealmaker
last week — Comcast
chairman and CEO Brian
Roberts — adding that the
latter’s latest transaction,
the NBC Universal joint
venture, not only makes financial sense but could be a
strategic winner as well.

Comcast announced in
December a $30 billion joint venture with General Electric
that would give the Philadelphia MSO a controlling
interest in NBCU. That deal is expected to clear regulatory
muster by the end of the year.

“Brian deserves a lot of accolades for what he put together
here — a very clever financial structure. He caught
GE when GE really needed to do something and sort of got
control of a big pile of assets without paying a premium,”
Malone said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media,
Communications & Entertainment conference in Newport
Beach, Calif., last Wednesday.

He noted that Comcast’s decision to add content assets
comes about a year after Time Warner did the opposite,
separating its content and cable systems into two separate
companies.

“Who’s right and who’s wrong? I always thought it was
great to have investment in content when you own distribution,
so I tend to think Brian is going to turn out to be
right here,” Malone said.

He added that given the chance, he would have jumped
at NBCU.

“Those opportunities only come around once in a lifetime,”
Malone said.

As far as his own deals, Malone said Liberty will have to
make a decision on its Starz premium channel relatively
soon. Starz, which was spun off as part of the Liberty Starz
tracker in November, has about $1 billion in cash on its
balance sheet and no leverage.

Possible scenarios include making Starz a core asset
and building around it with other Liberty entertainment
assets like Live Nation and Sirius, or spinning it off
in combination with another entity.

“Those are all works in process; we don’t really have a
specific structural plan but every time we go to the white
board, those are some of the considerations,” Malone
said, adding that any moves wouldn’t be made until the
first quarter of next year.

March