Comcast Won't Authenticate Subs for New Starz App

Starz this month introduced a new mobile app, simply called Starz, that lets viewers subscribe to the premium channel -- and watch movies and series such as Outlander, Power and The Girlfriend Experience -- for $8.99 monthly "over the top," or without having to first subscribe to a pay-TV service.

The new app also replaced Starz Play and Encore Play apps used as "TV-everywhere" extensions, enabling existing subscribers to watch those services on a mobile or TV-connected device. 

Other premium programmers, including Showtime and HBO, also have OTT apps -- and have separate apps for TV-everywhere views. HBO Go, for example, is a TV-everywhere app; HBO Now is a standalone OTT app. Showtime Anytime is a TV-everywhere app; the OTT app is called Showtime.

Starz thought it would be consumer friendly to launch one comprehensive app that enabled both kinds of mobile viewing -- authenticated and OTT. "This will be one app within the app store, and if you have Starz you just hit 'Have Starz' and it goes to where you authenticate your TV product," Jeffrey Hirsch, the Starz president of global marketing and product planning, told Multichannel News before the April 5 app launch. "If you don't, then you'll go through a buy flow to buy it at $8.99."

Comcast disagrees with Starz's one-app-fits-all approach. The biggest U.S. cable operator and a key Starz affiliate has opted not to participate in the TV-everywhere aspect of Starz's new app.

For now, at least, Comcast is declining to enable the authentication (or verification) of Starz subscribers on Comcast Xfinity who want to use the new app. Representatives of Comcast and Starz both say they are "great partners" and hope something can be worked out to resolve the situation, though it is unclear what might cause Comcast to change its view on the matter.

Apple's latest update of the new Starz app, released yesterday (April 19), states that Comcast Xfinity views on the app are not authenticated. Comcast Xfinity does not appear on the drop-down menus on the app or on that list pay-TV affiliates that will authenticate their customers. A Starz spokesman said Comcast Xfinity is the only major distributor not authenticating subscribers to watch Starz and Starz Encore content on the app.

Comcast points out that Comcast Xfinity customers with Starz and Starz Encore subscriptions have other TV-everywhere options, via the website and the Xfinity TV mobile apps. That's what customer service representatives are telling customers that call to ask about it, Comcast said.  

Comcast Xfinity customers also can continue to use the older Starz Play app on devices including Roku and Xbox 360, platforms for which Starz hasn't introduced versions of the new Starz app yet.

Starz made an effort to position its launch of a standalone app as being done in a distributor-friendly way. CEO Chris Albrecht told Multichannel News in an interview prior to the app launch that Starz would not promote the standalone service on its channels running on distributor platforms, instead focusing more on social media to market the new $8.99 standalone service. Hirsch said Starz would like to work with distributors to pitch the new OTT service to broadband-only customers "to drive more upside." Albrecht also said Starz would be sure to inform affiliates in detail about how the new OTT service would work, because affiliates had told him that premium channels in the past had blindsided them with some of their moves.

A Starz representative said Comcast was fully informed about details of the new app before it launched.

The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing has been attempting to establish industry standards for programmers and distributors regarding TV everywhere, which has developed slowly but is vital to serving customers these days. Asked about this situation, a spokesperson said: "Developments such as the introduction of the Starz aggregated TVE/OTT app are a regular occurrence in today’s dynamic environment and may introduce new points of potential confusion for the consumer. We’ve been working closely with our members and will be looking at this to learn best practices for this type of app."

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.