Starz to Bow Original Programming Weekly30 Sep, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel
Pay-TV content aggregator seeks to up original programming — a tact increasingly emulated by subscription video-on-demand services
Starz intends to launch an original serial program on a weekly basis by 2014, CEO Chris Albrecht told an investor group.
Speaking at last week’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia confab in New York, Albrecht said the series would target different demographics, including women. New original series will bow on Saturdays with promotional tie-ins on Fridays.
“We’re doing it right now with a program called ‘The White Queen,’ that we purposely and successfully targeted a female demographic,” Albrecht said. He said the female audience is a typically ignored demo in the premium-TV space.
The premium-TV distributor in January 2014 launches pirate-based original series “Black Sails,” from director Michael Bay (“Transformers” franchise), in addition to “Outlander” and “Dancing on the Edge,” which Albrecht said is the first TV series from an African-American woman.
“Clearly, originals are a way for the audience to connect with the [Starz] brand,” the CEO said. “They’re clearly the way to distinguish your brand.”
Albrecht said the original slate would be a mixture of licensed and owned content, based on the economics of each program. For example, some originals might have strong foreign appeal, upping its ownership appeal.
The CEO said “White Queen” was co-produced with the BBC, with Starz acquiring all North American and International rights outside of the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
“The net cost of that deal will be very little to Starz,” Albrecht said.
Starz push into expanded original content mirrors efforts by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and other premium-TV channels. Albrecht said the increased competition in the space has upped the cost of entry regarding programming costs and rights for pilots and scripts.
As a result, he said Starz would also consider producing third-party content with the intent of holding the global distribution — not broadcast — rights.
While Starz seeks to build its profile largely on original episodic programming for its 17 premium channels, it also distributes packaged-media titles through its Anchor Bay Home Entertainment unit. Indeed, Starz distribution (which includes home video) generated pre-tax operating income of $9.5 million on revenue of more than $171 million during its most recent fiscal period.
“The distribution business can be a high margin business, and allow you more leverage in the market place in territories outside the U.S.,” Albrecht said.
Starz Still Likes Movies
Despite all the media attention afforded Disney’s landmark pay-TV distribution agreement with Netflix, Starz will continue distributing first-run Disney movies (about eight titles, in addition to three from Paramount a year) in the pay-TV window per license agreement through the beginning of 2017. Thereafter, Netflix will be the exclusive distributor.
“We’re happy to have them. Iron Man 3 and all those things are coming on Starz next year,” Albrecht said, adding the renewed pay-TV license agreement with Sony Pictures (from 30 films annually) runs into 2021. “Theatrical output is still a key attribute in premium television. [But] even with the big theatrical films, their shelf life is more as staple items than headline items.”