LOS ANGELES — Starz Entertainment CEO Chris Albrecht knows the path to building the Starz
and Encore brands among both viewers and distributors is with more original scripted shows.
Starz has already established its original-programming stripes with such hits as Spartacus and
Torchwood: Miracle Day. He’s hoping to build momentum with the October debut of Boss with
Kelsey Grammer. Meanwhile, sister service Encore is looking to cut its scripted-series chops
with last week’s launch of the two-part miniseries Moby Dick and the soon-to-launch series The Take. Albrecht,
who left HBO as CEO in May 2007, talked to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead
during the recent Television Critics Association summer tour here about the company’s programming plans as
well as the company’s plans to offer its content on alternative distribution platforms, including its unique deal
with content-streaming service Netflix. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
MCN: You’ve said you’re not
looking to compete with
HBO and Showtime, but has
the success that they’ve had
with originals helped push
Starz, and now Encore. into
the original scripted-series
Chris Albrecht: I think we
proved at HBO that originals
add an invaluable dimension
to pay TV channels
— it’s not just movies
anymore. Starz was starting
to put its toe in the water,
and now we’re sticking our
whole foot in and maybe
we’ll get up to our knees or
thighs. There are over 33
million people that have
Encore — that’s bigger than
Starz, Showtime and HBO
— so we have an opportunity
to put some things on to have people watch and appreciate
the service, not just as subscribers but distributors
as well. While it’s not a main thrust of the channel, and
it’s certainly not going to replace movies — nor will it
have the same output level
that we have on Starz — it’s
definitely a way for us to
further demonstrate the
value of the channel and
to distinguish Encore from
the other channels that are
MCN: Will the new Encore
original series have additional
plays on the other
CA: We look at [originals]
as something we’ll obviously
premiere on the
flagship Encore channel,
but the place that it’ll
probably live a longer life
is on the other channels,
to remind people of the
breadth of the themes.
Moby Dick could roll out
to Encore Action or The
Take could roll out onto
Encore Suspense. Maybe
we’ll look at something for
MCN: Where is Starz in
terms of its distribution
deal with Netflix?
CA: We’re talking to them
on an ongoing basis — our deal is not up until sometime
in first quarter of next year. We’re in active discussions
with them, just like we are with all of our distributors all
the time. Obviously, there’s a lot of attention surrounding
the Netflix situation —
when the time comes and
we have something to announce,
we will. We understand
that’s an important
decision for us, for Netflix,
and we also understand
that it has ramifications
on the rest of the industry.
We’re determined to maintain
the premium nature of
MCN: Are you satisfied
with the Netflix experience
up to this point?
CA: I certainly like the
[Netflix executives] very
much — I think they’ve
done an amazing job. It
would be very fair to say
that the first deal has
turned out a lot better
for Netflix than it has for
Starz, so going forward in
any relationship we need
to make sure that we’re understanding
what the real
benefits are for our company
and look at the whole
picture, and not just whatever
the opportunity there
might be with Netflix.
MCN: What other distribution outlets are you exploring?
CA: Every day you pick up the paper, it seems that
there are more people trying to get into the business.
You’d think who’s getting into the streaming space
was actually as important as the budget crisis. We
are always looking to talk to any legitimate companies
that have a serious interest in distributing our
MCN: Do you think at some point we’ll see a Starz Go or
an Encore Go-type service similar to what HBO is offering?
CA: Certainly, we all understand that it’s important to
be able to enable your subscribers to view these brands
in different ways. All the devices are opportunities to do
that, and different distributors have different ways of doing
that. There already is Starz Play, and some distributors
want you to work within the framework of their platform,
and some distributors are starting to be interested
in you creating your own platform.
We’re doing both.
We’re developing the capability, but
at the same time having the flexibility to work with the different
distributors’ needs, but with the idea of you getting
to take your subscription and having a chance to watch it
the ways that work best for you.
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