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CEO Albrecht: Starz Play is 'Open for Business'

29 Jul, 2015 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht

In a world going over-the-top, Starz LLC is eying a front-row seat while firmly entrenched in the pay-TV universe.

The company’s branded Starz Play subscription streaming service remains a work in progress following a quiet Middle East launch in April.

Starz bowed the direct-to-consumer video platform — Starz Play Arabia — offering subscription streaming video to select markets in the region and North Africa. Starz Play Arabia marked the first time the pay-TV channel had extended its brand as a standalone platform outside of the United States.

Starz Play Arabia offers more than 3,000 movies and a wide selection of TV series for $13.99 per month, a 30-day free trial, and no monthly contractual obligations. The SVOD service is available on PCs and Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

In the U.S., Starz Play is a TV Everywhere app for authenticated subscribers.

On its July 29 fiscal call, CFO Scott Macdonald said Starz Play remains in test mode, including market-specific pay options for consumers.

“It’s really kind of slow rollout at this point,” Macdonald said. “Probably more judiciously is the way to say it. So making sure everything is working well and the customer experience is positive.”

CEO Chris Albrecht said Starz Play underscores a company-wide mindset that it is ready for OTT video.

“This is in effect hanging a sign out front saying ‘open for business,” Albrecht said.

He said third-party financial and strategic partners have emerged as possible supporters of the platform outside of the U.S.

“In fact, we had conversation yesterday that maybe we need to be a little more proactive. While we’re learning about operating a [OTT video] business in a country other than the U.S., we’re also at the same time showing the skill set necessary to attract other potential partners.”

One of those partners has been rumored to be Lionsgate after Liberty Media Corp. founder John Malone acquired a minority stake in the mini-major. Liberty Media owns a stake in Starz.

Regardless, Albrecht said the growing OTT video market globally bodes well for Starz original content.

In addition to original episodic programming such as “Power,” “Outlander,” “Blunt Talk,” “Survivor's Remorse,” “Da Vinci's Demons,” “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” “Flesh and Bone” and newcomer “American Gods,” Starz's first original movie, The Dresser, starring Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Watson, among others, and co-produced by the BBC, will be presented to buyers at MIPCOM, the international film and program market for television, video, cable and satellite in Cannes, France in October.

When asked if Starz would consider breaking away from the MVPD environment in which Starz and Encore serve a combined 56.8 million subscribers, Albrecht said there no timetable is in place to launch an OTT video service in the U.S.

He said HBO's deal with Amazon Prime Instant Video is interesting as it affords the e-commerce giant access only to individual seasons after the fourth season airs on broadcast.

“That’s an interesting strategy. New distributors placing value on premium [content], we think that is a good story for Starz,” Albrecht said. “We are evaluating what others are doing (i.e., HBO Now, Showtime, CBS All Access). It is early days. We have yet to see any hard reported data on the benefits of [OTT video]. But I can tell that there are lots of people interested in distributing Starz.”

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