Comcast Could Drop Starz as it Expands Epix Deal

Lionsgate-owned Starz Wednesday warned of a potential its 17 channels could be dropped by Comcast next month after the MVPD announced an expansion of its deal with Epix.

The expanded deal calls for Comcast to add MGM-owned Epix to to select Comcast Xfinity TV premium packages on Dec. 10 and a newly launched suite of ScreenPix channels on Dec. 12, featuring uncut and commercial free movies channels from the Epix library, including ScreenPix; ScreenPix: Action; ScreenPix: Westerns; and ScreenPix: Voices, a channel dedicated to diverse voices.

To make room for the Epix channels, Starz says Comcast is considering dropping the premium service and related channels from its lineup as of Dec. 11. 

Starz Wednesday released a statement saying that it had been diligently working with Comcast to reach a “fair market distribution agreement with Comcast Xfinity” but the MVPD has ignored “industry precedent and has demonstrated a total disregard for its customers, communities, suppliers and other stakeholders.”

The Starz statement added: “In response, we must now alert our millions of Comcast subscribers that they will soon lose all 17 Starz channels, including Starz and Starz Encore along with our on-demand and online services without receiving any refund from Comcast for the loss of an irreplaceable premium programming lineup.”

Comcast responded that it is “continuing to negotiate to reach a deal with Starz that makes sense for us and our customers before our current deal expires, but we have been unable to do so at this time. Over the last decade, the video marketplace has evolved dramatically, with more and more streaming and direct-to-consumer offerings marketing themselves as an alternative to traditional cable. We have seen the streaming marketplace grow from essentially two services to dozens of significant OTT platforms, with more launching all the time. Starz has chosen to change its business model in response to these trends by making its content available a-la-carte on Amazon Prime and Roku and selling its service direct to the consumer through the Starz app. All we are asking for is the same treatment for our customers.”

Comcast has complained about Starz's distribution strategies before. In 2016 the MVPD objected to the $8.99 per month Starz app, which also doubles as the premium service’s authenticated “TV-everywhere” extension. Comcast has declined to authenticate the Starz app for its subscribers.

Starz also battled with Suddenlink and Optimum parent Altice USA over the app's pricing, leading Altice in 2018 to drop Starz services for five weeks before finally reaching an agreement. 

RELATED: Starz, Altice Reach Carriage Deal 

If dropped, Comcast subscribers would lose access to Starz original series such as Power, currently in its final series run, and Outlander, as well as thousands of movies. Finding a way to resolve the dispute will be a key objective for Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch, the former Time Warner Cable executive who was promoted from chief operating officer last month. Lionsgate also has reportedly been exploring a possible spinoff of Starz.

For Epix, the deal offers more distribution for its premium services. “I’m thrilled to welcome this new chapter in Epix’s relationship with Comcast,” Epix president Michael Wright said in a statement. “We have a shared commitment to providing viewers an unmatched experience and are excited for Xfinity TV customers to experience Epix’s lineup of new original series.” 

Pictured: 50 Cent (left) and Starz CEO Jeffrey Hirsch at a Madison Square Garden premiere of PowerCredit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Starz.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.