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Q4 2024 Lions Gate Entertainment Corp Earnings Call

Participants

Nilay Shah; Executive Vice President, Head of Investor Relations; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

Jon Feltheimer; Board Member; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

Michael Burns; Vice Chairman; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

James Barge; Chief Financial Officer; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

Jeffrey Hirsch; President & CEO, STARZ Entertainment LLC; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

Kevin Beggs; Chair, Lionsgate Television Group & Chief Content Integration Officer, Lionsgate; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp

Steven Cahall; Analyst; Wells Fargo & Co

Barton Crockett; Analyst; Rosenblatt Securities Inc

David Joyce; Analyst; Seaport Research Partners LLC

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Jason Bazinet; Analyst; Citigroup

Alan Gould; Analyst; Loop Capital

Jim Goss; Analyst; Barrington Research

Thomas Yeh; Analyst; Morgan Stanley

Presentation

Operator

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Lionsgate fourth-quarter 2024 earnings conference call. (Operator Instructions) Please note this event is being recorded.
I would now like to turn the conference over to Nilay Shah, Executive Vice President and Head of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Nilay Shah

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for the Lionsgate Studios Corp., and Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. fiscal 2024 fourth-quarter conference call. We'll begin with opening remarks from our CEO, Jon Feltheimer; followed by remarks from Vice Chairman, Michael Burns; and remarks from CFO, Jimmy Barge. After their remarks, we'll open the call up for questions.
Also joining us on the call today are COO, Brian Goldsmith; Chairman of the TV Group, Kevin Beggs; Chairman of the Motion Picture Group, Adam Fogelson; and President of Worldwide TV and Digital Distribution, Jim Packer. And from STARZ, we have President and CEO, Jeffrey Hirsch; CFO, Scott Macdonald; and President of Domestic Networks, Alison Hoffman.
The matters discussed on the call also include forward-looking statements, including those regarding the performance of future fiscal years. Such statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. Actual results could differ materially and adversely from those described in the forward-looking statements as a result of various factors. This includes the risk factors set forth in our public filings for Lionsgate Studios Corp. and Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. The companies undertake no obligation to publicly release the result of any revision to these forward-looking statements that may be made to reflect any future events or circumstances.
I'll now turn the call over to Jon.

Jon Feltheimer

Thank you, Nilay, and good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I'm speaking today as CEO of both the consolidated parent company Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. and Lionsgate Studios, as we now have two public companies trading in the market. When Jimmy presents the consolidated financial results of the parent company in a few minutes, he'll include the separate operating results of the Lionsgate Studio segments.
Turning to my remarks, we had a great year. We completed four major transactions, moved closer to a value defining separation of our studio and stars, exceeded our numbers, strengthened our content pipelines, and grew our library to record levels. We accomplished all of this in the face of two strikes and unprecedented industry disruption.
Let's look at the fiscal year highlights. Last week, we launched Lionsgate Studios as a pure play publicly traded company positioned right in the sweet spot of the entertainment business, creating, owning, and distributing great content. We believe that it has all of the ingredients to live up to its ticker symbol, LION.
In December, we closed the acquisition of eOne and it is already deepening our library, strengthening our Canadian production initiatives, diversifying our television group, and allowing us to efficiently scale Lionsgate alternative television into an unscripted powerhouse.
Our Motion Picture Group reported its best segment profit in 10 years, driven by the latest installments of The Hunger Games, John Wick, and Saw franchises, a robust multiplatform release business, and a strong library performance. Our ability to convert films to profitability in all parts of the business continued last weekend with a strong opening of The Strangers, Chapter 1.
Our Television Group has rebounded from the strike with seven series orders and renewals and 27 new shows sold into development in recent months. Earlier this week, we partnered with Amazon MGM Studios to announce the development of a Nurse Jackie sequel, starring Edie Falco, an executive produced by Edie and Bob Greenblatt, the first of several franchise properties we're bringing to the market this spring.
Our film and television library reported a record $339 million revenue quarter bringing trailing 12-month revenue to $886 million. This performance was driven by strength across the board. Top properties from third-party creators like The Conners and The Chosen, the SVOD syndication of our hit comedy Ghosts on CBS, and evergreen titles from our deep library.
STARZ continues to drive its successful transition to digital, ending the fiscal year with 64% of its revenue coming from streaming with 70% anticipated by the end of the fiscal year. It remains one of the only profitable pure play premium networks in the business.
And finally, we ended the fiscal year on a strong financial note, raising $350 million in gross proceeds from our Lionsgate Studios transaction and completing our bond exchange agreement to help prepare the studio and STARZ balance sheets for full separation. Assuming we meet the financial targets to which we've previously guided, we expect to end the fiscal year with our studio leverage in the low-threes.
Looking at our individual businesses, coming out of the strike, our Motion Picture Group has been putting together one of our strongest production slates in years, driven by a roster of world class talent.
Graham King producing and Antoine Fuqua directing, Michael, the Michael Jackson biopic. Chad Stahelski directing Highlander while continuing to grow the John Wick franchise in both film and television. Blumhouse following up its partnership with Lionsgate on imaginary with a multi-picture deal, reimagining several of our horror classics. Hunger Games filmmaker, Francis Lawrence, following up Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by directing the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Long Walk.
Ruben Fleischer in preproduction on Now You See Me 3. Destin Daniel Cretton, prepping the adaptation of the blockbuster manga property, Naruto. And Margot Robbie and LuckyChap Entertainment developing Monopoly.
Turning to television. We're witnessing the most profound industry disruption in recent memory. Shows being canceled or unrenewed, changes in buying patterns and buyer mix, the ad market abruptly transitioning from linear to digital, fewer network series pilots, and the aftereffects of the strikes changing the calculus of our business in ways that are continuing to unfold.
Here's why we're a little less concerned about this disruption. First, we're taking advantage of our diversification with growing contributions from eOne, 3 Arts, and our newly restructured unscripted business, all helping us to weather pressure on any single part of the business.
We're cultivating new buyers like MGM+, AMC+, Disney+, FX, and Amazon Prime, alongside our long standing relationships with platforms like Apple TV+, Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, and the broadcasters.
We're innovating new business models that draw upon our ability to create noisy brand-defining series like Seth Rogen's half-hour comedy, The Studio, for Apple TV+; as well as cost effective international acquisitions and co-productions, like Son of a Critch and Population 11.
And we remain a prolific supplier of premium scripted series to STARZ, with the reimagining of their hit series, Spartacus, House of Ashur, going into production this week in New Zealand; and the sexy thriller, The Hunting Wives, currently shooting in North Carolina for a fiscal '26 network debut.
We believe that Lionsgate Television's history of working closely with STARZ provides our television group with a unique understanding of the platform's specific programming needs and an unparalleled ability to collaborate with them in crafting efficient business models. This will continue to drive our relationship with STARZ after the separation.
Turning to STARZ, we had a solid quarter with OTT subscribers holding steady, churn down, revenue up for the third consecutive quarter, and continued profitability. At a time when the streaming world has shifted its preferred metric from subscriber growth to profitability, I want to remind everyone that STARZ has always been profitable. In fact, STARZ has executed a successful transformation to digital while holding overall revenue steady and remaining profitable. This, in the face of a more than 60% decline in linear revenue over the past seven years.
On the programming front, STARZ's core group of premium series, Ghost, Raising Kanan, Force, BMF, P-Valley, and Outlander are performing at levels comparable to any group of shows on any network. Family crime drama, BMF, had a strong premiere in the quarter that drove a 15% increase in viewership and achieved its strongest subscriber growth of the series. Power Book II, Ghost, will close out the fiscal first quarter on a strong note with its Season 4 debut on June 7.
Franchise extensions like the prequel series Power Origins and Outlander, Blood of My Blood are in the pipeline for next year, and the network continues to ramp its offering of studio movies from its pay-one and pay-two output deals, helping to drive STARZ's subscriber acquisitions and retention.
In closing, last week's launch of Lionsgate Studios is more than just an opportunity to shine a light on the tremendous value of the content we're creating, owning, and delivering. It's also an important step forward in fully separating our studio and STARZ by the end of the calendar year in order to simplify our structure, unlock opportunities to scale our respective businesses, and create incremental value for our shareholders.
Now, I'd like to turn things over to Michael to discuss our next steps in separating the two companies. Michael?

Michael Burns

Thank you, Jon. It's been a very busy 2024. As you noted, we recently announced the closing of a transaction which established Lionsgate Studios Corp, now trading on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol LION, L, I, O, N, as a pure play content company. We also closed a bond exchange, which provides us with greater flexibility in managing our corporate debt. These two transactions will help propel us towards a full separation of our studio and STARZ's businesses, which as we've noted previously, we anticipate will occur before the end of the current calendar year.
Relatedly, management has been working with outside advisors in assessing the collapse of our A and B shares, as well as the parameters for a premium in favor of the A shareholders in connection with the collapse. Management believes that a vote to collapse the shares should be undertaken in combination with an eventual vote to fully separate the studio and STARZ businesses. Earlier this week, the Board of Directors authorized the formation of a special committee of the Board to work with management to further consider the share collapse and otherwise work with management and the entire Board towards a full separation.
I'd like to now turn things over to Jimmy.

James Barge

Thanks, Michael, and good afternoon, everyone. I'll briefly discuss our fourth quarter and fiscal year 2024 financial results and provide an update on the balance sheet. In particular, as we've made significant strides toward execution of our strategic separation, I'll provide additional color on our landscape studio and STARZ's businesses.
For the quarter, Q4 adjusted OIBDA was $140 million and total revenue was $1.1 billion. Consolidated revenues was up 2.9% and adjusted OIBDA was up 1.7% year over year due to the strength in television. Reported fully diluted earnings per share was a loss of $0.22 per share and fully diluted adjusted earnings per share was positive $0.27 per share. Adjusted free cash flow for the quarter was a $3 million use of cash.
For the full fiscal year 2024, you will notice we exceeded the high end of our fiscal '24 consolidated adjusted OIBDA outlook of $400 million to $450 million even after excluding the $30 million benefit from STARZ international territories. Adjusted OIBDA of $518 million was up 45%, total revenue of $4 billion was up 4%, and adjusted free cash flow was up four-fold to $230 million.
As you can see, we also exceeded the studio and STARZ domestic adjusted OIBDA figures shown in the roadshow deck associated with our recently completed equity rates. We are reiterating our previously announced fiscal year 2025 adjusted OIBDA outlook for the studio business. Specifically, we continue to forecast fiscal year '25 adjusted OIBDA for landscape studios to be $430 million.
Now, let me briefly discuss the fiscal fourth quarter and full-year performance of our studio and media networks businesses, as well as the underlying segments compared to the previous year quarter.
First, I'd like to talk about our studio business. Quarterly revenue of $880 million increased 6.8% year over year, while segment profit of $135 million was up nearly 10%. Studio adjusted OIBDA was $93 million up 34% year over year.
For the full year, studio revenue was approximately $3 billion roughly flat year over year, while studio adjusted OIBDA of $330 million is up 15%. Trailing 12 months library revenue at the studio was $886 million up slightly compared with fiscal year 2023's trailing 12 months library revenue. Quarterly library revenue was $339 million representing the highest quarterly result in the company's history. Library strength in the period was driven by strength in both TV and motion picture.
Breaking down the studio businesses, let's start with motion pictures.
Motion picture revenue for the quarter was $411 million, while segment profit was $82 million. Revenue and segment profit expectedly declined due to difficult comparisons with last year's theatrical launches of John Wick 4, Jesus Revolution, and Playing. For the year, motion picture revenue was up 25% to $1.7 billion, while segment profit was up 16% to $319 million. Segment profit for fiscal year '24 was the highest in a decade, driven by franchise films, such as Hunger Games, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and Saw X, strength in slate carryover, growth in multiplatform business, and strong library sales.
Moving to TV, quarterly television revenue was $469 million, and segment profit of $53 million were both up over 50% year over year, due to strong library sales and an increase in post-strike content deliveries. For the year, television revenue of $1.3 billion expectedly declined due to the impact of the strikes, while segment profit increased 10% to $147 million on performance of the continental.
Media networks' quarterly revenue was $362 million, and segment profit was $53 million. Revenue was up 7% from fiscal 2023 due to the exit from our international markets, which we largely completed over the course of the fiscal 2024. With the exit from the UK now complete, STARZ is exclusively focused on the strength of its North American business. With that in mind, I will focus my comments today on STARZ's domestic financials, as well as its North American subscriber trends.
Quarterly domestic revenue was down modestly year over year but was up sequentially as the impact of the June 2023 price increase continues to help STARZ's top line. STARZ domestic business has now grown revenue sequentially for three consecutive quarters. Quarterly domestic segment profit was down year-over-year due to higher content amortization resulting from the timing of original series premiers.
For the year, STARZ domestic revenue was down 2.2% as continued strong OTT revenue growth was more than offset by linear revenue declines. Domestic segment profit was down 5.6% year over year due to the decline in revenue, partially offset by lower content amortization.
Now let me discuss our subscriber trends in North America. We ended the quarter with 21.8 million subscribers, which represented a sequential decline of 480,000 subscribers primarily due to the decline in linear subs.
Focusing specifically on OTT subscribers, STARZ ended the quarter with 13.4 million North American subscribers, which is flat quarter-over-quarter and up 3.3% year over year. OTT subscribers now represent 61% of the sub base and exiting fiscal year '25, we continue to expect OTT revenue to account for 70% of STARZ revenue.
Now, let's move on to the balance sheet. Given the number of moving parts that are in play as we approach full separation, I will provide some additional color to help you better understand what our Lionsgate Studios and STARZ businesses look like post separation. We ended the quarter with net debt at the consolidated company of $2.2 billion. Pro forma for the Lionsgate Studio capital raise, consolidated net debt was $1.9 billion.
Excluding the adjusted OIBDA from exited LIONSGATE+ territories and inclusive of both the capital raise and the $60 million of projected run rate adjusted OIBDA from eOne, consolidated trailing 12 months pro forma leverage was 3.6 times.
Looking forward to fiscal 2025, both Lionsgate Studios and STARZ's net debt upon closing of the equity raise, was in line with our previous projections. Specifically, the studio's net debt on May 13 was approximately $1.4 billion leaving a corresponding level of net debt attributable to STARZ of $700 million.
This reflects going in leverage of less than 3.5 times using projected fiscal-year 2025 adjusted OIBDA of $430 million and over $200 million for Lionsgate Studios and STARZ, respectively. Along with the equity capital raise, we recently announced another important step toward full separation when we completed a bond exchange representing a majority of our $715 million of 5.5% bonds. Specifically, $390 million of newly established exchange bonds will travel with the studio and, at the time of full separation, will adjust to an annual coupon of 6% with a one-year extension of maturity to 2030. As we've previously noted, the remaining $325 million of the bonds will remain at STARZ with an existing 5.5% coupon and 2029 maturity.
In this regard, I'd also add that yesterday, Fitch initiated ratings on the newly issued exchange bonds at B+ with a stable outlook and superior recovery rating. Additionally, Fitch similarly upgraded the rating on the remaining $325 million of bonds from B to B+ with a stable outlook and superior recovery rating. We believe these parallel ratings are indicative of the thoughtful and balanced capital structure we are establishing at both businesses, along with the operational success we are having as we approach full separation.
Finally, I want to provide some color on how to think about the shape of content spend and quarterly adjusted OIBDA in fiscal 2025. As such, we expect leverage at both Lionsgate Studios and STARZ to rise in the near term, but ultimately leverage at both businesses should fall by the end of the fiscal year to levels closer to 3 times.
Now, I'd like to turn the call over to Nilay for Q&A.

Nilay Shah

Thanks, Jimmy. Operator, can you open the call up for Q&A?

Question and Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Steven Cahall, Wells Fargo.

Steven Cahall

Thank you. So, Jon and Jeff, you've highlighted the profitability at STARZ. Maybe the market hasn't necessarily shifted from subs to profitability so much as to profitability, while also wanting to see subscriber growth. We've seen that in a lot of peers where there is punitive valuations until we do see net sub growth. So as you get to that 70% level of OTT, when do you think that subscribers can be positive on a net basis on a go-forward run rate basis?
And Jeff, do you have any expected shifts in how you're going to program the service post separation to help achieve that aim? And then, Jimmy, just wanted to dig into the studio EBITDA guidance a little bit. Can you help us think about what's assumed in there in terms of library revenue and also how that breaks out between motion picture and TV segments? Thank you.

Jeffrey Hirsch

Hey, it's Jeff. Thanks for the question. Look, I think the move away from -- for us about driving consistent revenue growth and profitability has really came on the heels of putting the first rate increase in the business this last year. And look, we saw great success in that rate increase. We've seen our peer group continue to raise their rates, which gives us a lot of headroom to continue to raise rate over the next couple of years.
But when you put rate increases into the business, you have to be very disciplined about going after and achieving great subscriber growth in the short term that are not as, what I'd call, stable customers long term, because you want to make sure that you capture as much of that rate without giving it away in retailing the business long term. And so, I do think based on what we've seen last quarter, we actually had net growth across both OTT and linear, this was a little hangover quarter from that.
We had one of our big partners change the way they do with their onboarding process to move credit scoring to the front end to the back end, that put a little pressure on there. But we still feel pretty good about the subscriber trajectory long-term for the business.
In terms of programming the network, I think we've always talked about programming for these two core demos and using content as a way to drive lifetime value and reduce churn. I think we'll continue to focus on that. We like the way that the temples are lined up for '25 and '26, and we think that will continue to help drive lifetime value for our subscriber base, and ultimately, profitability.
And Steven, with respect to the guidance, look, the drivers coming across both motion picture and TV, so I would expect both businesses to be growing from '24 to '25 and contributing to that growth. We feel good about that. The motion picture slate, in particular, great carryover coming from the '24 slate, a lot of mid releases -- mid-size releases, it's our bread and butter; really providing carryover.
And then we're off to a great start in '25 as well with Ministry, Unsung Heroes, Strangers that just hit. And then we go to a solid release schedule in the summer and the fall.
Libraries, obviously contributing to that as well, also across TV and a strong pipeline in TV, Rookie Season 7, Ghost. And then across all of that is eOne integration, right? Which is helping drive business in both motion picture and TV as we go to '25.

Steven Cahall

Thank you.

Nilay Shah

Thank you. And operator, could we get the next question, please?

Operator

Barton Crockett, Rosenblatt.

Barton Crockett

Let me see, one of the things I was just wanting to understand a little better is the EBITDA strength. Was any of that attributable to eOne? Because your guide had been for $400 million to $450 million, excluding the international benefits and eOne. And so I'm just wondering how much eOne there was in there?
And then just stepping back on this whole separation process that you expect to finish by the end of the calendar year, you talked about some Board processes, but can you walk us through step by step what needs to happen between here and there for this to actually be completed?

Jeffrey Hirsch

So in terms of the quarter, eOne, the revenue contribution from eOne and Q4 was about $100 million. Segment profit was less than $10 million. And I would say the mix on the revenue side is about 80% motion -- sorry 80% TV, 20% motion picture. And it's probably a good way to think about it going forward as well.

Jon Feltheimer

Michael, do you want to answer the second question?

Michael Burns

Sure. Happy to do it. We're taking a thoughtful methodical approach to this operation. As I outlined in my opening remarks, the Board authorized a special committee. The special committee is discussing with a variety of experts what the ratio should be, the premium for the As. And then once that's established, and obviously you're going to have a Board for the studio and a Board for the holding company and then a Board for STARZ on full separation, we're going to have a shareholder vote; and both on this extraordinary transaction, both the A shareholders and the B shareholders will vote.
And obviously, a lot of that's going to be about the ratio between the As and the Bs, and what percentage of the studio they own. Remember that we're doing this by when we spend the 87% out on a tax free basis to the shareholders.

Barton Crockett

Okay. That's helpful. And then just one other thing on the bond transaction. Could you provide a little bit more clarity? There's been some discussion about some of the bondholders end up with the studio, some stay with STARZ, and some discussion about how that happened and whether everyone's completely happy with where they sit on the bondholder side? Is there anything you can say about that to clarify what's happening there?

Michael Burns

Yeah. We're not going to go through how the sausage was made. But I would say, very simply, I think the rating upgrade on the STARZ's bond. And Jimmy laid it out pretty clearly, we think overall all of the bondholders have been benefited by this transaction. And we're going to just move forward assuming everyone will realize that once they really do the math.

Barton Crockett

Okay. That's great. Thank you.

Operator

David Joyce, Seaport Research Partners.

David Joyce

Thank you. Couple of questions. First, eOne, what sort of seasonality should be expecting that to be contributing given that you just let us know what it did in the March quarter? And then also, what are some -- Michael, could you kind of tighten up the timeframes on when we would expect the voting to take place? Thanks.

Michael Burns

I'm happy to take the second one, but however you want to do it, Jon.

Jon Feltheimer

Go ahead, Michael.

Michael Burns

The second one, we've said that we expect the full separation by this calendar year, the end of this calendar year, which is obviously December 31. We are going through the processes that we'd have to do. There are regulatory, shareholder votes, notices, all of that. So I think we all believe that the sooner the better, but we're putting that upside target by the end of the year and have to follow all these different processes.
And remember, also, there's a Canadian aspect to us. And all that has to -- all those I's and all those T's have to be crossed.

James Barge

Yes. And David, with regards to your question about eOne, look. I think the seasonality is pretty much very similar to our studio and our content business, right? In terms of just going to be based on deliveries and things like that. Obviously, we're integrating a very strong library and we've just gotten started.
So clearly, we've talked about a $60 million contribution in '25 run rate, and so, from eOne. And if there's less than $10 million in this fourth quarter, we would expect that to be ramping up. So we feel good, but that's going to be integrated completely in both motion picture and TV business going forward. So that's all encompassed in the new guide that we gave or the guide we gave with respect to $430 million.

David Joyce

Thanks. And if I could extend the thoughts about the content production. Given that a lot of your buyers also have their own studios and they're ramping up production, how should we think about any year-over-year comparisons for orders and deliveries on the TV done on the episodic side?

Jon Feltheimer

Great. I'll let Kevin answer that question.

Kevin Beggs

Sure. Thank you. Well, look, year over year compared to a strike environment as Jimmy touched on, it's already bouncing back in a significant way. And with the renewal of something as big as The Rookie, which is a full season order along with other new shows going, I think it will be a significant growth on the revenue line.
What we are finding in the market, the buyers are back. After the strike ended, the ensuing two months, we sold two or three, maybe four projects into development. In the intervening time, let's say, from March to now, we've sold another '23. So people are getting back to business and the pipelines are filling up.
There is pressure to be financially disciplined, to start shooting shows at different price points. That sometimes take you to tax friendly locations or out of the country. I think you're going to see that more and more. Obviously, it's in the feature business all the time.
And we sell to everyone and can produce at multiple price points. So, I feel bullish. Obviously, converting development into production is the key. We have a huge book of business together with Jeff and the STARZ team, and we're excited about getting a Kanan renewal. We started shooting Spartacus in New Zealand this week, the spin off; and Hunting Wipes is shooting in Charlotte.
Those are just three examples of things that we couldn't have done six months ago in the strike environment. So, feeling very good.

Nilay Shah

Thanks, David. Operator, could we get the next question, please?

Operator

Jason Bazinet, Citi.

Jason Bazinet

Hi, thanks. I just had two quick questions. I think you said on the separation, STARZ is going to have $700 million of debt, and maybe erroneously, I just always assumed that those $5.5 million coupon senior notes would just move over. But post this bond exchange, there's only $325 million of that left? I just want to confirm there's still $700 million of debt that is going to be attributed to STARZ, is that right?

James Barge

Yeah, Jason. Yeah, that's correct. There's $700 million of net debt going in as of May 13, right? We'd expect that to delever over the course of the year. Keep in mind, full separation has not occurred yet, okay? So the $715 million of bonds effectively are attributable to STARZ at the moment, along with small revolver draw, along with $50 million of cash, so to speak, so you're $700 million net debt, all right?
As that delevers and as we get to full separation, it's not until full separation that the exchanged bonds, which are still at 5.5% today and a 2029 maturity, it's not until full separation that they travel with the studio. And in the $325 million, which is relative to STARZ, is going to be remaining with STARZ the way we've always said, but it's $325 million instead of the $715 million.
We'll backfill that with some term loan A; obviously, very financeable. STARZ has a very strong free cash flow. So let me remind you, $200 million-plus of adjusted EBITDA, okay? Very little CapEx, no appreciable cash taxes at all, they'll have carryover NOLs, okay? And 5.5% coupons with some term loans, not a lot of interest relative to the size of that business. So they're in a very good position to delever.

Jason Bazinet

That's fantastic. Thank you for the answer.

Operator

Alan Gould, Loop Capital.

Alan Gould

Thanks for taking the questions. I've got a few. First of all, conceptually, and this one is for Adam. The studio has had great margins since the pandemic as you've haven't had a full slate, didn't have all the P&A expense, and library was a bigger percentage of the studio revenue.
Going forward, when you have a full slate. Should we expect the margins to stay here, as opposed to being at the long-term rate, which is about half of what it's been the last four years?

Jon Feltheimer

I mean, I'll let Jimmy expand on it a little bit if he needs or wants to. But I would just tell you that we're very confident that we're going to be able to maintain exceptional margins going forward. The films that were mentioned before in Q1 of '25 have collected and blended, delivered a 40% return on invested capital. We are running an incredibly efficient operation and even our smaller films that may not generate the sexiest headlines are delivering an incredible return for the company.
And that, coupled with an exceptional lineup of franchises, both existing within the studio and new ones that we're building give me incredible confidence in our ability to, not only deliver growing returns, but to make those margins really solid.

James Barge

And Alan, I'll just add, the 19% margins you're seeing here rolling out of '24, I'd expect that to carry right on into '25. And Adam and his team are just masters at P&A efficiency.

Alan Gould

Thanks, Jimmy. And if I could pop with one more. Just trying to figure out what your investment in content should be about STARZ and the studio business next year? I think you spent about $1.1 billion at the studio and about $850 million at STARZ last year?

James Barge

Yes. Those are the numbers for '24. I mean, look it's increasing. We're coming off the strike obviously, and you saw we popped a pretty big free cash flow number in the quarter and finished the year very well. And that's why in my remarks, I talked about the cadence is more back end loaded.
So you're going to have some carryover spend. Look, I'd expect -- if you go back to earlier years that was closer to a $2 billion combined company spend. And that goes -- we'll be back at those levels, maybe slightly more depending upon what the bounce is coming back.
But most of that I would add is in the studio, right? TV, as it scales up and less so but also in motion picture, less so of a ramp in the starter side. Keep in mind, we've effectively closed the international business. Canada has folded in with a North American focus.
So you'll see savings there and less of a modest increase at STARZ.

Alan Gould

Okay. Thanks, Jimmy.

Nilay Shah

Thanks, Alan. Operator, could we get the next question, please?

Operator

Jim Goss, Barrington Research.

Jim Goss

All right. Thank you. I was wondering if you feel that the move to become a pure play studio once again, despite the existing and continuing relationship with STARZ, will influence either numbers of films, types of films, or any anything else in terms of the monetization opportunities you might have? Does being a pure play make a difference in that regard?

Jon Feltheimer

Yeah. No, not at all. And you'd be surprised at some of the movies, that work really well for STARZ and probably not the ones you think of. And other ones that you would say are right down the middle are not as good.
At the end of the day, we're a huge diversified entertainment company and whether it's television, and Kevin addressed already, this relationship we have and we'll be producing six, I think, shows franchise shows for STARZ and these are shows that have a lot of spin offs and sequels and prequels. And so that relationship will remain the same, but Kevin has 30 other buyers between the scripted and unscripted business. So we have to be diversified in that respect.
And again, in terms of the movies, Adam has got to make a great movie. Movies that he and his team believe in and with a great profile, again, that's a really a great business for us and the margins will remain very strong. Our international presales were really the only ones who go to the market with big movies.
The percentage of presale that we're getting out of the international market is higher, not lower. The return, we're getting 90 something percent of our smaller movies are profitable and highly profitable.
And so we're going to make a diversified slate that I think is going to work really well. I wouldn't be surprised if we also made some lower budget movies, specifically for STARZ, and we're talking about that and thinking about the calculus for how that works. And at the end of the day, we take all that product, all that product and all that huge investment. And it goes all into the library and the new stuff drives the old stuff as we've talked about before.
So we've got really a great ecosystem. Whether we're the same company or whether we're two companies, I think you can expect those mutual benefits to continue.

Jim Goss

And my second question involved just at the library. Do you feel the process of building the library will primarily come from current production? Or do you think you'll consider allocating funds to separately build out the film and TV library as you've occasionally done in recent years?

James Barge

Hi, Jim. It's Jim. How are you? Yeah, I would say that if you look at our trailing 12 months for this fiscal, it was a record for us. Even the quarter was great. And you're starting to see the real engines of all these years of buying libraries and what it actually means for us.
In addition, we are really a premier third-party content distributor with The Conners, with The Chosen, with Kill Bill, and Jackie Brown's. We have some of the best product in the marketplace comes to us for our distribution acumen. And I'd say overall, I feel really good.
We have 30, 40 films that flow through some multi-platform, some theatrical, 400 episodes of TV. And every time you see something like a Spartacus Reboot, we have 4 seasons of library to go along with it. So I feel very good about it and overall, I think it's going to continue.

Jon Feltheimer

And let me answer it a little differently. Whether it's TV show or whether it's a movie, when we do our analysis of green lighting that, we basically do a 10-year ultimate. And basically, we don't consider the value after 10 years nor do we really consider the value of whether it's a prequel, sequel, and how much uplift it's going to give to the library even though any prequel, sequel, will actually create a tremendous amount. We need to live and die and make money on 10-year ultimate and we need to get a return of 15% to 20% IRR on each and every one of those.
The great news is we've been able to put together this incredible portfolio this year. And looking into next year, our slate for motion pictures is incredible. We're able to do it, be profitable in the first 10-year cycle, and then build the library beyond it. So again, we like how that's all playing out.

Jim Goss

Okay. Thanks so much.

Nilay Shah

Thanks, Jim. Operator, could we take the last question, please?

Operator

Thomas Yeh, Morgan Stanley.

Thomas Yeh

Thanks so much. I wanted to follow-up on the leverage point. You mentioned, Jimmy, that both the studio and STARZ sees leverage rising in the near term before falling I think closer to 3x, you said, by the year end. Should we think about that largely being driven by the cadence of EBITDA contribution over the course of the year?
Any help on how to think about studio lumpiness, how that might be impacting that cadence would be helpful. And then I just wanted to get your sense also on just what you see as a comfortable range going past that for both of those assets?

James Barge

Sure. Look, it's both trading 12 months and free cash flow. We plan on both businesses being positive after fully funding their content needs as we have been always on a consolidated basis. So I see the net debt absolute balances going down and also see trailing 12 months improving.
I think it's really -- the midterm leverage before reducing to those three levels at the end of the year is probably more trailing 12 months than it is cash, but cash is a factor there. And I think -- you see STARZ, I see STARZ very much after if you go into '26 and you look ahead below a 3 times leverage. And I see the studio 3 times and moving below as well. So really strong profiles for both.

Thomas Yeh

Okay. Understood. Back on STARZ. I mean, last quarter, Jeff, I think you mentioned leaning more into pay-two as a content strategy. As we think about how to get to that 20% margin you laid out, what needs to happen on the cost side?
Should we expect there to be greater content efficiencies? Or how should we think about content spending overall on the STARZ side of things? And whether or not maybe on the non-content piece that there's still efficiencies to be had as well?

Jeffrey Hirsch

Yeah. Thanks for the question. There's a couple of components on the cost side. One, if you look at our slate, we've got some shows that are coming up that are later in their arcs that are obviously more expensive. And so we've announced, working closely with Kevin and team, Power of Origins, which is a new story which will reset that economics -- to that show to a season one economics.
That, coupled with the fact that we're no longer in international, we're focusing on domestic, bring some of the cost down because we don't have to cover the international cost anymore. And so as you look at turning over the slate over the next two to three years, in terms of fresher content, new seasons and season one economics that are domestic, you can bring a lot of cost out of the business.
I also think we will look at all of our other non-original cost as we go forward, whether it's library, an extension of a pay-two or an extension of pay-one, we'll look at that in the outer years as well. Based on the data that we have, to make sure they're performing and that cost is actually adding value to the business just putting cost on the book.

Thomas Yeh

Thank you.

Operator

This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Nilay Shah for any closing remarks.

Nilay Shah

Hey, everyone. Please refer to the Press Releases and Events tab under the Investor Relations section of each of our company's websites for a discussion of certain non-GAAP forward looking measures discussed on this call. Thank you.

Operator

The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.