Outlander fans are eagerly awaiting Sunday’s Season 3 premiere, but Starz executives are even more excited about the return of the drama, based on Diana Gabaldon’s eight-book series.
That’s because the network, and its new owner Lionsgate, are anticipating a surge in subscribers for its direct-to-consumer offering around Outlander’s return. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said the company saw an influx of sign-ups around the premieres of American Gods and Power and expects the same to occur with Outlander.
Currently, Starz has around 2 million paying subscribers for its OTT offerings, including its streaming app (which launched in April 2016) and its partnership with Amazon (which offers Starz as an add-on service for its Prime customers). The company said its app’s subscribers increased 300 percent this year.
But once Outlander’s 13-episode third season concludes, Albrecht will need to give those new subscribers a reason to stick around. His approach is to establish “beachheads” like Power and Outlander that will attract audiences, then build up a library that will satisfy them beyond that one show.
This summer, Starz enhanced its OTT and on-demand library with kids programming like Bob the Builder and Thomas & Friends and nearly 300 Spanish-language movies and telenovela episodes. It now offers upwards of 5,500 movies, episodes and specials, with plans to expand to more than 7,700 by year’s end.
“We want to add value to the subscriptions. If you have a subscriber that’s subscribing for Power or Outlander, and they have something that the family can watch when they’re in the car, it adds value,” said Albercht, noting that Starz users can download content to their mobile devices and watch on the go. “And at some point, that value just becomes too valuable to not have.”
Over the last year, the company has also fine-tuned its OTT approach, working with outside consultants to help reduce the churn rate for subscribers as well as its costs for acquiring new subscribers, both of which are key elements in nurturing the platform.
“We have made the case for investing in marketing, but we want to be as efficient as possible,” said Albrecht. “It’s not about, let’s throw everything at this thing and then hope for a return. It’s proving that there is a formula for a return, and that return is increased performance as well as making more money, which goes hand in hand.”
Another key to Starz growing its direct-to-consumer subscriber base will be to find other partners like Amazon. “There are other potential partners for us that are interested, and we might be able to have it make sense for both parties,” said Albrecht. “But the goal for us is to make the best decisions on both sides of that equation: wholesale OTT and retail OTT, or direct-to-consumer.”
As it refines its OTT strategy, Starz is also adjusting to its new owner, Lionsgate, which completed its $4.4 billion acquisition of Starz in December. While the network just announced that Lionsgate will be producing its newest series—The Rook, a supernatural thriller from Twilight author Stephenie Meyer—Albrecht said Starz will continue to work with all studios, not just its parent one.
“We’re always going to be open for business with other studios,” said Albrecht, noting that Outlander is produced by Sony, while American Gods is from Fremantle. However, he admitted, “I think Liongsate Television will be a favored insider. They’ll know what Starz is doing when Starz knows what it’s doing. And that will help them find the right projects to bring to us.”