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Liberty Media CEO: Starz Open to Partnering for Streaming Service

5 Mar, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Starz is amenable to partnering with multichannel video program distributors to deliver an over-the-top video service to consumers, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei told an investor group.

Liberty Media last December spun off the Englewood, Colo.-based premium TV content aggregator into a separate company headed by Chris Albrecht. Maffei remains chairman of Starz.

Speaking March 5 at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom confab in Palm Beach, Fla., Maffei said the cable/satellite TV business is entering a period in which he believes there will be consolidation as operators grapple with rising content and transmission costs. With increased digital access to content, the CEO believes Starz represents an ideal candidate to partner with a MVPD in such a venture.

In addition to original programming such as the “Spartacus” and “Magic City” franchises, Starz holds the pay-TV movie rights to Disney (through 2016) and Sony titles (through 2021). Netflix assumes the rights to Disney movies beginning in 2017.

“There will be digital offerings that are tiered [in price], recognize the value of premium programming, and have integrity against what we do with traditional distributors,” Maffei said.

The executive said the current rise in digital distribution of content mirrors a prior time when satellite TV emerged upon the market upsetting the cable and broadcast industries, and more recently, the arrival of Verizon FiOS TV and AT&T U-verse.

“Some of it may very well come from traditional structures offering their own over-the-top [services]," Maffei said. "But they need to be consistent with [the] philosophy of working with the traditional distribution model.”

The executive admitted pay-TV distributors might not be happy with a Starz-based streaming service, but added that such a service would help them level the digital playing field, especially if it offered attractive price points and content to consumers. Starz generated criticism from  some MVPDs when it originally licensed movies to Netflix, which helped the latter launch the subscription video-on-demand market. That agreement ended in February 2012.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has often been asked about working with content holders in offering tiered rental plans that would enable subscribers to access content closer to retail availability. Hastings has heretofore declined addressing such options, preferring to stick with $7.99 streaming and by-mail disc rental plans.

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