'Hunger Games' studio Lionsgate to buy Starz for $4.4 bn

(L-R) Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore, actors Caitrona Balfe and Sam Heughan, and author Diana Gabaldon on stage during the Starz section at the 2016 TV Critics Association Winter Tour in Pasadena, California on January 8, 2016 (AFP Photo/Frederick M. Brown) (Getty/AFP/File)

New York (AFP) - Lionsgate, the Hollywood studio known for its "Hunger Games" film franchise, said Thursday it reached a deal to buy the Starz pay television group for $4.4 billion.

The deal, rumored for several weeks, cements the standing of Lionsgate as a major Hollywood player and gives it broader global reach with Starz, which operates premium television channels in the United States and globally.

"The combination of Lionsgate and Starz brings significant scale to our portfolio of content and distribution assets and will enable us to compete successfully in today's rapidly evolving global entertainment marketplace," said Lionsgate chairman Mark Rachesky.

The tie-up comes with the media-entertainment world hit by the growing influence of online services such as Netflix and Amazon, which have created a market for on-demand television and are now moving into feature films.

Starz earlier this year launched a standalone online channel which does not require a cable or satellite subscription, helping it compete with rivals like HBO and Showtime.

There are some 56 million subscribers of Starz and its sister brand Encore.

The combined company will include a 16,000-title film and television library and what is described as "the largest independent television business in the world," with 87 original series on 42 US networks. The combined revenues of the group would be some $4 billion.

The feature film business has generated over $7 billion at the global box office over the past four years with its "Hunger Games" films as well as others such as the "Divergent" franchise, "Now You See Me" and others.

Lionsgate also produced hit television programs include the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," the hit series "Mad Men" and the "dramedy" series "Casual" on Hulu.

Starz also produces its own programs such as the dramas "Outlander" and "Black Sails."

- Reaching 'multiple platforms' -

"This transaction unites two companies with strong brands, complementary assets and leading positions within our industry," said Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer and vice chairman Michael Burns in a statement.

They added that they expect the deal to "generate significant synergies and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts."

Starz chairman Greg Maffei said the combination will form "an entertainment powerhouse with a world-renowned studio that produces blockbuster movies and channels with must-have programming that will be able to capitalize on content opportunities across multiple platforms."

Starz is controlled by cable TV billionaire John Malone, who manages a range of media operations through his huge Liberty Media holding company.

Malone also has a stake in Lionsgate and sits on the board of the company, which was formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1997 and now has its headquarters in Santa Monica, California.