The US mini-major has signed a long-anticipated deal to acquire premium cable network operator Starz, agreeing to pay $4.4bn in cash and stock.

US mini-major Lionsgate has signed a long-anticipated deal to acquire premium cable network operator Starz. The film and TV producer best known for The Hunger Games franchise (pictured) and Mad Men will pay $4.4bn in cash and stock for Starz.

In a statement, the companies said the deal “significantly increases the combined company’s content creation capabilities, enhances its leadership in premium scripted programming and scales its global distribution footprint across mobile, broadband, cable and satellite platforms. It also paves the way for a broad range of new content partnerships and accelerates the growth of Lionsgate and Starz’s own OTT services.”

The combined company will encompass a 16,000-title film and television library; a TV production operation with87 original series on 42 US networks; a feature film business whose recent releases have also included the Divergent films, Sicario and Roadside Attractions’ Love & Mercy; 30 owned or operated channel platforms around the world, including Starz, with 24m US subscribers, and Starz Encore, with more than 32m; and five OTT services.

Though it has not yet had as much success in the field as premium cable rivals HBO and Showtime, Starz has recently pushed into the original TV production business with such series as Outlander, Black Sails and Power.

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and vice chairman Michael Burns said: “This transaction unites two companies with strong brands, complementary assets and leading positions within our industry. We expect the acquisition to be highly accretive, generate significant synergies and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

“[Starz CEO] Chris Albrecht and his team have built a world-class platform and programming leader, and we’re proud to marshal our resources in a deal that accelerates our growth and diversification, generates exciting new strategic content opportunities and creates significant value for our shareholders.”

A Lionsgate/Starz merger has been on the cards for the past 18 months, since media mogul John Malone swapped his stake in Starz for astake in Lionsgate and a seat on the film company’s board. The deal is seen as part of Malone’s plan to assemble a critical mass of companies that can compete on a global basis with the studio-owningconglomerates.