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Starz Readies Interstitials for SVOD Content

Starz on Demand is rolling out an array of new short-form content to help distinguish and promote its film offerings in the subscription video-on-demand realm.

Subscribers to the platform are not only being greeted by animated rabbits that provide 30-second synopsis of films, but introductions and banter from former members of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 group, as well as an aspiring talent agent who just happens to be a rat.

The service is also looking to boost viewership through a sweepstakes tied to its interstitial fare and themed films.

The short-form “file packages” can be accessed under the Starz On Demand navigation system icon called “Only Here.”

“The number one objective is to engage subscribers and drive usage of Starz on Demand,” said vice president of on-demand services Bill Hoagland. “This ultimately will help us reduce churn.”

“We want to exceed expectations, for viewers to come to us for innovation,” said David Salinger, vice president of on-demand promotion. “These file packages are unique and a way for Starz on Demand to stand out in the minds of viewers in a crowded landscape.”

The officials said that the push toward ongoing short-form creation emanated from research done earlier this year with viewers in New York and Los Angeles. Respondents indicated interest in short-form content that would serve as light-hearted preludes or supply additional information about the movies that follow.

Contracting with Angry Aliens Productions, Starz has been showcasing “The Bunnies,” 30-second movie synopsis. Last month, Bunnies shorts about The Big Chill, The Exorcist, Titanic, Alien and It’s a Wonderful Life joined a library that included Freddie vs. Jason, Scream, Pulp Fiction and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In July, Starz on Demand will unveil a War of the Worlds synopsis, while future shorts will provide crash courses on Star Wars, Scarface, Rocky and King Kong.

Starz on Demand this month is also rolling out short-form introductions from “The Film Crew” — Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy — who previously teamed on the Peabody Award-winning Mystery Science Theater. To date, 20 intros, including takes on Pink Flamingos, Night of the Living Dead and Reefer Madness, have been filmed. Those titles are part of Starz On Demand’s “Midnight Movies” stunt, debuting later this summer.

Starz on Demand also will unveil “Manny The Rat,” a flash animation character described by Salinger as an agent looking to crack the Hollywood scene, who doesn’t have any clients yet, so he is soliciting stars at the movies.

And there will be more interstitial activity down the road. “This has really energized everyone in our department. We’re looking to entertain and surprise. We want to take risks and develop more of these,” Salinger said.

Added Hoagland: “This is not just the same old, same-old short-form. Our goal is to deliver unexpected delights.”

The SVOD service is also looking to drive viewership via a sweepstakes over the next year. Starz on Demand’s “Big Screen Movie” program trades on subscribers seeing films identified in a file package and then entering at Starz officials said new “qualifying” movies will be added every other week.

The programmer, which is trumpeting the sweepstakes through interstitials on its linear channels, cross-channel avails and selected mailings, among other tactics, will award a Panasonic 42-inch plasma TV and a Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound System every other month through June 30, 2006.

Elsewhere, Starz on Demand has been grouping films together under the “Stunt” banner. For instance, the recent “Epic Battles” featured King Arthur, The Lord of The Rings: Return of the King, Hero and The Alamo. Coinciding with the theatrical debut of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the current stunt films include The Blob, Predator and The Thing.

Starz on Demand also provides “early premieres”: films screen here 15 days before they hit linear channels.