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Starz Joins "TV Everywhere" Party

Premium programmer Starz Entertainment said Thursday that it will join Comcast's "On Demand Online" trial, which will use authentication technology to allow cable subscribers to watch online programs for free from networks they already receive as part of their pay-TV packages.

The company will contribute some 300 movies from its Starz networks to the 5,000-subscriber national trial, including top titles like "No Country for Old Men" and "National Treasure," as well as original series like "Crash." Some of the titles will also be offered in HD, which would be an online first for Starz.

"It's the best stuff we've got," says Starz spokesman Eric Becker of the selected content.

The Comcast trial, which was announced jointly by Comcast and Time Warner last month as part of Time Warner's much-vaunted "TV Everywhere" initiative, already included content from TNT and TBS. Other networks, including Scripps Networks, Cablevision Systems' Rainbow Media, A&E Television Networks and Comcast Networks, are also expected to eventually participate.

Both Starz and Comcast are quick to point out that the agreement is solely to participate in the authentication trial, and doesn't indicate any official change in the companies' affiliate relationship. The companies didn't disclose technical details about how the movies will be presented, such as encoding rates for the HD titles. But Comcast says it is using adaptive streaming technology from Web compression specialist Move Networks, the same technology used by ESPN, Fox and ABC for their HD Web fare.

Starz has been playing in the Web video arena since launching Vongo, a subscription streaming service, in January 2006. That service later morphed into "Starz Play", which was essentially the same broadband streaming product but designed to be resold by multichannel operators. So far, telco Verizon Communications has been the only operator to jump on Starz Play, marketing it alongside its FiOS fiber-optic service for $5.99 a month. Starz also struck a deal with DVD rental giant Netflix to offer Starz Play as part of its streaming product, which is available free to Netflix subscribers with unlimited packages starting at $8.99 a month.

Becker says that Starz's involvement in the Comcast trial has no immediate impact on those existing relationships for Starz Play. But he adds that Starz is optimistic about the direction cable operators appear to be heading, which is using authentication to tie streaming services to an existing cable TV subscription.

"We've been listening to our key business affiliates from the beginning on this," says Becker.