Starz to Rebrand Encore to Lift … Starz

Starz is gearing up a big rebranding of its Encore service that it hopes will drive more subscribers to the premium channel.

The April 5 rebranding of Encore’s services to “Starz Encore” channels will include running past episodes of Starz original series on Starz Encore outlets, timed before new seasons of the shows return to Starz.

Currently Starz has about 23.6 million subscribers, while the lower-priced Encore services have about 32.2 million. Starz would like to narrow that gap.

In January, Starz tested the upsell potential with Cablevision Systems and other operators by airing seasons one and two of pirate series Black Sails on Encore ahead of the third-season launch on Starz. The results, executives said, were encouraging: Of 700,000 Encore (non-Starz) households that sampled Black Sails, more than 2% later added Starz to their subscriptions and went on to watch new episodes on Starz.

“As you look at this business, it’s very competitive, there are a lot of choices, and brands become more and more important,” Starz president of global marketing and product planning Jeff Hirsch said. “We have a great Starz brand that is continuing to grow. Encore has 9 million more Encore customers than Starz customers based on how some of our distributors sell us. How do we strengthen both products by putting them together? The idea is to launch a master brand where we create a windowing strategy across both Starz and Starz Encore. What we hope is, it will strengthen them and simplify them.”

Large distributors like Comcast and Time Warner Cable have sold the services separately in the past, Hirsch and other executives said.

“What we hope [the rebranding] will do and what we think it will do is strengthen the product for our distributors,” Hirsch said. “By simplifying the portfolio under a master brand, by co-mingling on-demand together and windowing back and forth, we believe this will give a better upsell and revenue opportunity for our distributors’ partners that sell the product separately.”

There are six Starz channels (five are themed, such as Starz in Black) and eight Encore networks (including themed versions such as Encore Westerns).

Starz is backing the eff ort with a marketing campaign using the tagline “Starz: Obsessable,” highlighting original series and hit movies.

Alison Hoffman, Starz executive vice president of marketing, said a study by Hollywood marketing firm Troika found that 85% of adults consider themselves fans of something, and 70% of that group identify themselves as fans of a TV series.

“That was the nugget,” Hoffman said, saying Starz originals like Outlander and Ash vs Evil Dead have passionate fan bases, not unlike fans of the Avengers and Star Wars movies.

Starz has the rights to Marvel’s Avengers movie franchise — it is currently airing Avengers: Age of Ultron — and will have the premium rights to Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year.

Hoffman said the “Starz: Obsessable” campaign, and a subsequent social-media effort, should further drive new subscribers to the channel.