Movies

Starz execs explain how they're partnering with potential rivals like Amazon and Apple and sharpening their programming focus to cut through the noise

  • Starz has added streaming subscribers and reduced cancellations, even as legacy-media giants like WarnerMedia and Peacock launch rival offerings. 
  • Two top Starz execs told Business Insider that comarketing with platforms including Amazon Prime Video and Hulu has been key to that growth.
  • "We're going to market with them in a lot of instances to try to grab subscribers together," Alison Hoffman, Starz' president of domestic networks, told Business Insider.
  • The premium-TV service, which hired a new content chief in May, is also ordering more seasons of shows like "P-Valley" and a wide-range of new dramas geared toward its core audience of women to keep the moment going.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Premium-TV network Starz is facing more competition in the streaming space from new entrants like HBO Max, Peacock, and Apple TV Plus.

But its streaming audience has continued to grow, reaching in March new heights of 6.8 million subscriber in the US and 10.6 million globally, including its international version StarzPlay.

Subscription-analytics firm Antenna also found that, while Starz's US rate of conversion from free trials to subscriptions was lower than some other major streaming services, people who paid to subscribe were more likely stick with Starz than its direct competitors. Starz had the lowest pace of cancellations, or churn, among premium-TV rivals including HBO and Showtime from April to June, according to the July report.

Starz also told Business Insider that cancellations were down year-over-year in recent months, and users were watching for longer.

Part of Starz's growth is due to the pandemic, which has people spending more time at home and streaming video.

But two top Starz execs also told Business Insider that the company has been partnering with new streaming entrants to nab more subscribers. Those players are willing to work with Starz because it's so far resisted the trend of expanding into a general-audience streaming service, and sells itself alongside those other platforms.

"We really are sticking to that premium model, which also allows us to partner with a lot of these entrants," Alison Hoffman, Starz' president of domestic networks, told Business Insider. "We're going to market with them in a lot of instances to try to grab subscribers together."

Hoffman, who was Starz's marketing chief before being promoted to her current role in April, said Starz is comarketing its service with well-heeled streamers like Hulu, Apple TV Plus, and Amazon Prime Video. 

Those streamers, incidentally, have been among the heaviest advertisers in the streaming-TV category since the pandemic hit, as Business Insider has reported. Each aired TV ads worth north of $100 million during the second quarter, according to data from iSpot.TV.

Hulu also promoted Starz as an add-on service in recent digital-ad campaign, as Business Insider reported based on data from Pathmatics. And, in November, as Disney was blocking rival Netflix from advertising on many of its TV networks, it was promoting Starz on Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, as The Verge first reported.

C0marketing with other channels served Starz well in the pay-TV ecosystem, when it would sell in bundles with other premium-TV networks HBO or Showtime, on top of basic cable. Starz simply translated it to the streaming world. 

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Hoffman said. "We're really sticking to our knitting."

Starz is doubling down on its core strategy when it comes to programming, as well.

In May, the company brought on former CBS exec Christina Davis as its head of original programming. She is helping expand Starz's slate of dramas geared toward audiences it says have been traditionally underserved by premium TV, like women, Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ viewers.

The company solidified that approach after its historical drama "The White Queen" hit in 2013, and set the stage for dramas like "Outlander" that came after.

"We saw this influx of women viewers and they were passionate and they were buzzing on social media," Hoffman said. "We said, 'Nobody is doing this and there's such passion and there's such attachment and evangelism, because people aren't finding these voices on premium.'"

Starz is sharpening that focus now to stand out amid the noise in streaming. 

Davis said she's looking for stories that go deeper into character than much of what she was able to shepherd in in the broadcast world.

"I've always been jealous of the outlets that get to actually tell these brilliant stories about brilliant characters that are female and diverse," Davis said. "The stuff that I'm most proud of, I could see on Starz, like 'The Good Wife,' and shows like that, that really get to dig deeper into character exploration and tell a very distinct, potentially provocative story."

Davis is meeting, virtually, with a wide range of writers from the traditional-TV sphere, as well as creators outside of that bubble, given that first-time showrunners like Katori Hall have created huge hits for the network. 

Starz recently ordered a second season of Hall's "P-Valley," a drama about the strip-club scene in Mississippi that made waves after it launched in July. It also renewed the crime drama "Hightown" and set a September premiere date for its "Power" spinoff, "Power Book II: Ghost."

She's also learning to give those creators space to create.

"What I'm noticing is that we're able to let the creators tell these stories," Davis said. "Instead of noting them to death, just let them tell their story and let the passion come out."

Starz released 14 original series in the last year, the company said. It currently has about 20 shows in development, compared with the 50 to 60 series Davis said she would typically develop during an average broadcast season, 10 of which would make it to pilot and roughly four of which would get series orders.

Davis is also starting to think more globally about programming, as Starz has expanded to 50 countries through its international streaming service, StarzPlay.

Starz announced this week its first set of international originals, including local-language coproductions coming out of Spain and Mexico.

"It does feel like audiences around the world are really hungry for great drama and stories well told, with complex narratives," Hoffman said.

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