Game of Thrones isn't the only highly anticipated returning premium cable program based on a hugely popular book series with a rabid fan base. Starz has its own budding hit in Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon's historical/fantasy/romance novels, which will launch the second half of its debut season on April 4.
Outlander made an immediate impact when it premiered last August, with the first eight episodes averaging 5.1 million viewers across platforms. Notably, Outlander has finally brought a large female audience to Starz, whose programs, including Black Sails, Magic City and Spartacus, have tended to skew male.
Outlander's audience, meanwhile, is 59 percent women, compared to 38 percent for Black Sails and 45 percent for Power, and its last two episodes were the top-ranked cable programs of the week among women.
Like Game of Thrones before it, Outlander proved that "if you can get in business on a great book series where you've got a presold audience and there are storylines that have been worked out by an author that have had the test not just of time but of an audience having to read and accept it, then that's a pretty good template for a television series," said Starz CEO Chris Albrecht.
Outlander's success with women is just the latest good news for Starz, which has grown to 23.3 million subscribers and, according to SNL Kagan, leapfrogged Showtime to become the No. 2 premium network behind HBO.
"Starz has singled out females as a demo that HBO and Showtime haven't focused a lot on," said Macquarie Research analyst Amy Yong. "So they've been very strategic about trying to draw a demographic that hasn't been as well-served as they could be."
What's more, that highly engaged new audience has mobilized into a social marketing army for the network.
"If you go for a certain demo, then you have an audience that not only is going to come to watch the show, but they're going to be the best marketing and promotional arm you could have," said Albrecht, who had similar results last summer with Power, which is targeted to African-American viewers. "Because with social media, they're talking about the show all the time to their friends, trying to get their friends to watch. So Outlander proved one more time that a core group of fans that are pleased are going to be a really powerful tool for the successful evolution of the show."
Now, Starz's challenge is to convince female Outlander fans to sample the network's other programming. To that end, it is cutting female-centric promos aimed at Outlander's audience.
"We did a promo where we took scenes from Black Sails and scenes from Outlander and we made a mashup, which is basically to say if you like this one, you'll like that one," said Albrecht. "So we look for ingredients in our shows that are going to allow us to weave some of this stuff together."
Albrecht, the former head of HBO, hopes that will give Starz more leverage as Outlander's popularity continues to soar.
Said Yong: "As long as they continue to gain buzz among consumers, I think the Starz brand will continue to resonate well, and then Starz gains more pricing power when they renegotiate deals with MVPDs."
It comes as no surprise that the network is looking to benefit from Outlander's success for many years to come. While Albrecht's plan is to produce one season of the series for every book (Gabaldon has written eight so far), he went on to joke, "We hope it will be around forever!"