Starz Plans Its Own Stand-Alone Service to Compete With HBO and Showtime

Premium channel does about-face on OTT app

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After previously insisting that it was "far away" from developing a stand-alone service to reach viewers without a cable subscription, Starz has reversed course. The premium cable network is now following HBO and Showtime's lead in preparing its own OTT app.

"Yeah, we're in the midst of doing it," Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "Nothing to really talk about right now. To have your own app is the opportunity to be distributed, either by our current distribution partners in different ways … or potential other portals. It is early days with that stuff, but it seems as if the new and the old are willing to exist side by side for a while. It's an exciting project for us, and when we feel that we have it right, I think we'll look at some business opportunities and make some decisions on that."

It's an about-face from comments Albrecht made a year ago when he told me he was taking a wait-and-see approach to a direct-consumer option for Starz, even as HBO and Showtime were planning to launch their own apps. "If you're running a business, you have to look at what your own opportunities and challenges are, and we're a premium channel that's fairly new to the originals business. We want to establish our bona fides with our distributors and with our current subscriber base," he said at the time, noting that he was "probably far away" from considering that option.

But feelings on that began to shift late last year. Starz first dipped its toe into the OTT waters a month ago, when it partnered with Amazon to offer Starz as an add-on service to Amazon Prime subscribers.

As it looks to expand its consumer base, Starz also unveiled a new binge-viewing option for its current subscribers. The network will offer all 13 episodes of its upcoming drama, The Girlfriend Experience, for subscribers to watch on Starz Play and Starz on Demand beginning April 10. That arrangement "lets us accommodate all viewing appetites," said Albrecht.

After attracting female viewers with shows like Outlander, Flesh and Bone and White Queen, and African-American audiences with Power and Survivor's Remorse, the network is now looking to reach Latino audiences with a trio of new projects announced today: Maleficio, based on the '80s Mexican production El maleficio; Pour Vida; and Santeria, from Cuban writer-director Alejandro Brugués.

"It's an audience that is hard to corral because there is a lot of different cultural elements there," Albrecht said. "But I think it's an audience that if we lean into them a little bit, we can show them that Starz has them on our minds."

As he prepares for the Season 2 premiere of Outlander in April, Albrecht credited social media with helping build the audience for that show and other Starz properties like Ash vs Evil Dead. "I think social media is becoming the real recommendation engine for audiences," he said. "With Outlander, Ash vs Evil Dead, the upcoming American Gods—when you have that fan base, you have to be careful that you deliver on their expectations, that you honor the material. But you also start with almost a certain adjunct marketing team that has more credibility than any ad that you're going to put up or, potentially, any [critic] quote that you're going to put in an ad." 

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.