Lionsgate is in “advanced talks” to merge with US movie channel Starz, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Lionsgate Starz

Neither Lionsgate nor Starz, which is controlled by Liberty Media chairman John Malone, has commented on the report and other outlets have suggested that talks between the two companies was at a preliminary stage. But speculation about some kind of link-up has been active since February, when a stock swap left Malone with a 3.5% stake in Lionsgate and a seat on the mini-major’s board.

Shares of both Lionsgate and Starz spiked on Wall Street after the appearance of the Times story, which also said that talks might lead to some kind of partnership other than a merger.

Starz, whose chief executive is former HBO head Chris Albrecht, has previously been the subject of merger speculation involving 21st Century Fox and AMC Networks. A deal with Lionsgate might eventually give the cable network access to Lionsgate features, which are currently committed to Epix, the movie channel owned by Lionsgate, Viacom and MGM.

A deal between Lionsgate and Starz would also be another big step in Malone’s drive to group smaller film and TV players into a major media entity. Through Liberty Global, Malone has recently accumulated assets including a 9.9% stake in UK broadcaster ITV and UK pay-TV and broadband company Virgin Media. Last year, Liberty and Discovery Communications acquired UK-based TV production ‘super-indie’ All3Media.