Starz Joins the Binge Brigade

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Premium pay TV network Starz is borrowing an over-the-top programming tactic by offering all episodes of two original series — Da Vinci’s Demons and Flesh and Bone — on its Starz Play TV everywhere app before they premiere on the cable network. The programmer also said it’s considering a standalone online subscription offering, a path recently paved in part by rivals HBO and Showtime. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht discussed those topics, as well as Starz’s desire to reach diverse audiences, with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead at last week’s Television Critics Association summer press tour here.

MCN:What prompted you to provide binge-viewing opportunities for two original series?

Chris Albrecht: We made the fans wait a long time for the third season of Da Vinci’s Demons, so we’ll put it up and let the fans gorge themselves on it. I think when people watch the first episode of Flesh and Bone, they’ll want to immediately see episode two and episode three. We have the TV everywhere platform on Starz Play so we can do it without affecting the linear run, so if you want to watch one a week you can, but if the fans want to watch it a different way it’s one of the nice promises of premium — you can have it any way you want.

MCN:Will it affect the performance of episodes when they premiere on the linear channel?

CA: You hope that all of this stuff is additive. What we and everybody else do now is count multiplatform viewers, so where they watch it and when they watch it is a lot less material than it would be if you were in an ad-supported space, where you’re trying to drive eyeballs to the first commercial. This is the third season of Da Vinci’s Demons, so the fans are waiting for it, and we have what is going to be a well-talked-about show in Flesh and Bone, so these are two interesting ones to try this with. If it works, we’ll do some more. We’re curious to see how this plays out and what we learn from this so we can start thinking about other things that we might do going forward.

MCN:Staying with new technologies, can you talk about Starz’s plans to potentially launch an over-the-top service?

CA: We’re watching what’s going on. We’re hoping for and seeing some interesting innovations within our traditional [pay TV] partners — I wish they would do more and do it faster — but that’s their businesses. We’re interested to see what the results are from what HBO and Showtime are doing. We have the capability of doing the same thing, but it’s early days for us, and we’re looking at everything to try to figure out what’s the best net benefit for Starz’s business, and make those choices based on that.

MCN:You recently mentioned that the network would generate some 75 to 80 of scripted shows in 2015. Has Starz reached its ceiling for original content, or are you looking to add more shows to the portfolio?

CA: I think it’s a bit of wait-and-see. We have a lot of shows in the pipeline. We have three dramas we’ve green-lit — American Gods, One Percent and Counterpart — and we have [the second season of] The Missing and The Girlfriend Experience in the pipeline. We’re not going to throw more stuff because we want to see what goes where.

Obviously, we announced some new programming like Antonio Banderas and the Havana Project. Plus our existing shows are doing well: Power is shooting the lights out with audiences, and we have two great comedies coming up, and Ash vs. Evil Dead will be — no pun intended — a monster, so we are in good shape. More is probably better, but we’ll see as we get these things figured out.

MCN:How do you see the competition shaping up with regard to original programming in the marketplace?

CA: There are a lot of people making a lot of television in the marketplace, and a lot of it seems to be pretty good. The flip side of the fact that there are a lot of shows out there is that there are a lot of training grounds for new writers and new voices. So the biggest obstacle to making a TV show is finding the really talented person who can do it who has a great point of view about something. I think good television shows are the breeding ground for those people.

MCN:Are there any other directives you’re looking to initiate for Starz over the next few months?

CA: I think we’re doing a real good job reaching women and African-Americans, and we’d like to reach out to bilingual, second-generation Hispanic audiences as well. We’re also into reaching millennials and I think they will be drawn to Ash vs. Evil Dead. The LGBT audience is one that we’d like to reach and one that isn’t really being serviced in the premium space all that well. The idea of serving underserved audiences is one that we like and we’ve been getting traction with it, and then good shows bring in other audiences.

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.