The ‘Power’ of Underserved Audiences

Premium service Starz has succeeded in part by creating original content targeting underserved audiences, from its most-watched series Power, targeting African-Americans, to its freshman hit Vida showcasing the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities. Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik recently spoke to Multichannel News about the network’s continuing efforts to offer quality, original programming to diverse audiences, as well as the challenges that cable networks face in an uncertain, changing television environment. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation.

Carmi Zlotnik, president of programming, Starz

Carmi Zlotnik, president of programming, Starz

MCN: Is Starz where you want it to be at this moment with regards to the breadth and diversity of programming?
Carmi Zlotnik:
I’m really proud of the programming that we have on the air, but it’s never at a point of being finished; it’s always a work in progress. We’re looking to mean more things to more people, and we’ve got a lineup of shows that has really worked in terms of our strategy of going after underserved audiences. We have Outlander, Power and American Gods that have all performed great. Vida and Sweet Bitter have been very targeted and reached their audiences. So now we’re looking at the next wave of programming and thinking about what the possibilities are for our channel, which seem limitless.

MCN: Who are some of the underserved audiences that haven’t been addressed by Starz’s current lineup?
One of the things we’re working on is The Continental, which is coming out of the John Wick universe, and we’re really excited to get a show that should have huge appeal across a broad spectrum. I think that’s also an important goal for our channel.

MCN: Power remains your most-watched show. Why does it continue to attract audiences?
It’s a great story with great casting and great execution. I think [creator and executive producer] Courtney Kemp has written complex characters in a world that has real consequences to it. When I think about the performances that are going on there, Omari [Hardwick] is just fantastic in the way that he can embrace this character of Ghost. I think Joe [Sikora] is a huge fan favorite. Lila [Loren] and Tori [Naturi Naughton] have their fan bases, and the way that the show has evolved in Courtney Kemp’s hands is just impressive to see. The story goes to places that you never thought possible, and even I as an executive who’s done a lot of TV am continually amazed at Courtney’s ability to write herself into a corner and then write her way out.

MCN: What challenges do networks continue to face in a very crowded and unpredictable environment?
I think the key is to differentiate. You’ve got to look at what everybody else is doing and then do something different. I think the key question you have to ask yourself is, “What have I not thought of? What is out there? What voice, what story, what character, what way of presenting and executing has not been tried?” You’ve got to continually push that edge.

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.