Company Town

Chris Albrecht leaving Starz as Lionsgate trims costs

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Chris Albrecht, chief executive of Starz, is leaving the network he has run for nearly 10 years in March.
(Jessica Sample / Starz)

Chris Albrecht, chief executive of the premium cable channel and streaming service Starz, is stepping down from the company he has managed for the last decade.

Parent company Lionsgate announced the move late Friday, saying Albrecht’s departure was part of the process to integrate the two small entertainment companies. Lionsgate acquired Starz, which had been a publicly traded company, in late 2016 in an effort to add more TV heft to its business.

But now many on Wall Street suspect that Lionsgate is positioning itself for a sale. The Santa Monica studio appears to be cutting expenses; last month it trimmed about 25 positions, largely in its motion pictures unit.

Albrecht will leave the company in March.

Since he joined Starz in 2010, the veteran programmer has established the channel as a destination for high-quality television shows, including “Outlander,” “Black Sails,” “American Gods” and “Power.” Starz has more than 25 million subscribers.

“I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished the last 10 years building Starz into one of the most exciting premium pay television brands in the industry,” Albrecht said in a statement. “As we reach the two-year anniversary of the integration of our two companies, and complete the first exciting chapter of our growth together, I’ve decided it is time to move on to new opportunities.”

Starz’s chief operating officer, Jeffrey Hirsch, and the current leadership team will manage Starz, along with Lionsgate Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer.

“Chris’s renowned programming expertise and entrepreneurial abilities have helped build Starz into a premium global brand distinguished by its great shows, fast-growing direct to consumer initiatives, and expanding international footprint,” Feltheimer said in a statement. He noted the company wanted to focus more on its international distribution.

Before joining Starz, Albrecht served as chairman and chief executive of HBO, where he transformed the network -- and the television business -- with such ground-breaking shows as “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” “Band of Brothers,” “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” HBO’s then-parent company, Time Warner Inc., forced Albrecht to resign days after he was arrested in 2007 over a suspected domestic assault in Las Vegas. He pleaded no contest to a battery misdemeanor and underwent counseling.

Lionsgate’s cuts in January primarily affected employees working in production, post-production, marketing and distribution. Eight of the job cuts came in the company’s New York office, as part of an effort to consolidate its marketing and distribution operations in Santa Monica.

Lionsgate punched above its weight class for years with the help of young-adult franchises such as “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” but the company has since struggled to replace those marquee franchises. Increasingly, its television business, including Starz and its production business with “Orange is the New Black,” and previously, “Mad Men,” has fortified the company. Television networks, including Starz and its streaming service, represented almost 80% of Lionsgate’s profits in the most recent quarterly report.

The company has released box office flops such as last year’s “Robin Hood,” which cost $100 million to make.

The company’s stock has fallen 50% in the last year, and closed at $17.91 on Friday.

Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

meg.james@latimes.com

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

Times Staff Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.