Starz CEO Chris Albrecht gave a virtual third-season pickup to Black Sails, his swashbuckling pirate adventure series/Treasure Island prequel from Michael Bay, when he addressed the press this afternoon at the TCA Summer TV Press Tour. “I looked at the final episode [of Season 2] the other day, and when I finished it … I thought to myself, ‘I need to find out what happens next.’” But he quickly added, “That’s certainly not an official announcement,” noting the press has taken jabs at his network for picking up shows early.
Participating recently in a panel with FX Networks CEO John Landgraf and Showtime chief David Nevins, Albrecht said he listened to the two men discuss how a series does not find its audience until its third season in this market. “I’m actually doing this wrong,” Albrecht said he concluded. “If we like the first season should we pick up the next two. … I’m actually beginning to think that, in this world of increased competition, I should worry less about what other people think and more about our belief in … people doing the show. Like I said, when I looked at the end of the second season, I wanted to know what happens next. So I’m optimistic.”
Asked about the state of his network, Albrecht said: “I’m at a little bit of a loss to understand why really good shows we put on haven’t created more buzz with you. … We’ve been thinking about, talking marketing-wise, spending more money on a series’ second season than less money — which is the way networks historically think. Maybe we need to lean into these things we believe in, in a big way.” Read More »
Starz is making the first episode of its new series Outlander available in its entirety for free to viewers, beginning August 2, in advance of its worldwide premiere August 9 at 9 PM. The episode will be available on multiple TV and online platforms nationwide. The network said in advance of its TCA session today that first season of the series will be split in two, with the first eight episodes running over eight consecutive Saturdays through September 27; the second half of the 16-episode order is scheduled to continue in early 2015. Outlander is adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling books and executive produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica).
Starz estimates about 82 million multichannel video households will have access to the premiere episode via additional linear, on-demand and/or online sampling opportunities on select cable, satellite and telco affiliates in the U.S. as well as online through select websites including Starz.com/Outlander, the Starz Outlander Twitter page, the Starz YouTube page, Starz Outlander Facebook Page and the free STARZ PLAY app for all U.S.-based users. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: How many pirate TV shows do you know of in the history of the medium? For Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, the lives of buccaneers repped a whole new world with Black Sails. ”I have been making TV shows for decades and I don’t think I ever heard a pirate pitch. I heard four at the same time. I knew that Michael Bay was working on one and then it walked in (the door),” exclaimed Albrecht at Saturday’s Produced By Conference. Looking to ride a wave, NBC decided to dip their toes in the genre recently with Friday’s Crossbones starring John Malkovich. Still, no threat to Starz. ”We may not have John Malkovich, but we’re spending more money, I’ve seen the scripts, I know what it takes (for this genre), and if you want to watch a TV show, ours is going to be better,” added Albrecht. There’s no CGI at work here as seen in this behind-the-scenes video where Black Sails co-creator/executive producer Jonathan Steinberg and the show’s costume and production design team discuss their process, of particular note: It took four to five months to build that pirate ship.
Consumer’s ferocious viewing appetite and The Netflix Model were some of the prime weighty topics at Produced By‘s “Take It From the Top: 10 Questions for the Cable Bosses” panel Saturday featuring Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, FX Network CEO John Landgraf, president of Showtime networks David Nevins and SundanceTV president and GM Sarah Barnett. Despite the impact that Netflix has had on consumers’ viewing habits, the group concurred that premium cable still has the edge and provides the pivotal role as a curator to viewers. Exclaimed Albrecht, “If you took the premium channels, we have much better product than Netflix and we have more movies and earlier windows.” Albrecht also pointed out how premium “was at the forefront of technological advances” with such view-where-you-go apps as HBO GO. If premium cable is going to outlast Netflix, the trick lies in getting cable and satellite distributors to offer up such services at a suitable price point for the customer. “The consumer is increasingly becoming the buyer of such distribution equipment, and they’re going to feel entitled about what they want, when they want,” said Albrecht. Read More »
A huge slug of option awards propelled the Starz CEO to a compensation package that’s close to what Jeff Bewkes made at Time Warner, a much bigger company. Chris Albrecht benefited from a new contract that coincided with the premium cable channel company’s spinoff from Liberty Media in January 2013, according to the company proxy just filed at the SEC. His package: $1.3M salary, $27.9M option awards, $1.3M non equity incentives, and $16,134 in other compensation. Not much commentary in the proxy about Albrecht’s achievements, but Starz shares basically doubled in value in 2013 following the spin off. His compensation accounted for 71% of the pie for the company’s five top execs, up from 63% in 2012. Corporate governance watchdogs also would consider it way out of whack for the company. Albrecht’s pay was 9.9 times the median for his closest lieutenants, up from 6.7 times in 2012. Many governance specialists flash a warning sign about a CEO’s power when he or she makes more than three times the median for other execs.
It has already been a great day for the legions of (predominantly female) fans of Diana Gabaldon‘s wildly popular Outlander time-travel romantic novels as Starz released a new image from its series adaptation of the first book depicting hero Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) shirtless. Here is more good news for them: Sony TV-produced Outlander, currently in production on its 16-episode freshman season, will do at least one more. “I would be shocked if we didn’t do the second book,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht told me after the Scotland-set show’s session at TCA that featured writer and showrunner Ron Moore in a kilt. It is not only the enormous and enormously passionate fan base of the books, though that is not lost on Starz brass. Albrecht said he is very high on the early footage he has seen and didn’t spare praise for Battlestar Galactica developer/executive producer Moore’s skills as a top-notch writer and producer.
Even without the big vote of confidence from Albrecht, Outlander has the odds in its favor as all original dramas ordered by Albrecht have gone to second season with one exception, Camelot. I asked Albrecht about Starz’s “two-season curse” as no series since Spartacus has been able to go to a third season.
“You want a show that really makes a difference,” he said. The exec believes that good serialized dramas need time to reach their potential, which explains his willingness to hand freshman series a second season, but if he feels a show won’t go to the next level, he doesn’t have much trepidation about pulling the plug. (Albrecht did, however, regret the Kelsey Grammer drama Boss not getting a satisfying closure at the end of its two-season run the way Magic City did.) “TV shows are assets, not shrines,” he said. “You put them on; if they do the job, you keep them, if they don’t, you don’t.” Read More »
At the top of Starz‘s TCA session, CEO Chris Albrecht did his semi-annual State Of The Network overview, laying out his programming plans for the next year. Starz will continue to push into original programming, which accounts for almost half of Starz’s top telecasts despite representing only 5% of the pay cable’s network schedule and has fueled Starz’s streak of eight consecutive quarters of subscriber growth. First off this year is the January 25 premiere of pirate drama Black Sails, which already has been renewed for a second season — a move Albrecht called “a good and economically responsible” decision following the enthusiastic response at Comic-Con. It will be followed by the second season of Da Vinci’s Demons, which Albrecht announced will premiere on March 22; the contemporary crime underworld drama Power in late spring; and Ron Moore’s adaptation of the blockbuster Outlander books in Q3. Starz had originally slotted Sky Atlantic’s upcoming drama series Fortitude for the fourth quarter. Last month, Starz pulled out of the project because of its changed filming schedule. The network put several internal projects on fast track — including ballet drama Flesh And Bone, which already has been casting and has hired a choreographer; Survivor’s Remorse, exec produced by LeBron James; and WonderWorld, set in Ronald Reagan’s America — and Albrecht today said he plans to make a decision on which one would fill the Q3 series slot within the next couple of weeks. Read More »
Investors who want to know whether Starz is a good bet will hear CEO Chris Albrecht’s sales pitch at a meeting later today. But based on his comments to CNBC’s David Faber this morning, they can expect to hear him vigorously defend his strategy to replace some of his Hollywood movies with original shows. “We have really just now decided to take the bull by the horn” with about 40 hours of originals in 2014, Albrecht says. Starz “needs to find a way to get more at-bats” and target women and others who are often overlooked on premium TV networks which attract a disproportionate number of older men.
Starz has looked like takeover bait since January when Liberty Media spun off the premium networks company. And investment bankers “of every shape, color, and size have come to us to talk about their best ideas,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht told investors this morning at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. But “there hasn’t been anything yet that makes sense to us.” So he continues to plug ahead with a strategy to boost the number of original shows Starz airs, and expand the number of platforms where the networks he controls are offered. Next year Starz should have about 50 hours of originals — and Albrecht says he’d like to increase that to about 75 hours, close to what HBO offers. “HBO has a lot of everything, including money.” He’s not certain how long it will take to get there because “those decisions haven’t been made yet” and the company’s tentative plans provide opportunities for it to “press pause” if shows fail to perform as well as he expects. A lot depends on the deals Starz can make to co-produce new series, or licence them, overseas.
Michael Thornton moves into a new position that will oversee network sales, affiliate marketing, and the distribution business that includes Anchor Bay Entertainment, Starz Worldwide Distribution, and Starz Digital Media. He’ll be based in Englewood, Colo. offices and report to Starz President Glenn Curtis. “In the rapidly changing media business landscape, it is important for Starz to unite together the revenue businesses of affiliate sales and Starz Distribution under one senior executive,” CEO Chris Albrecht says. Prior to the promotion, Thornton was EVP Acquisitions, Business and Legal Affairs. Meanwhile, the company says that Ed Huguez will step down as President of Affiliate Distribution but remain an advisor through the first quarter of 2014. ”During his tenure, Ed has been instrumental in increasing the value of the networks, the channels’ distribution and revenue,” Albrecht says. “We thank him for his hard work and dedication to the company and are grateful for his help during the transition.”
The project to be announced “soon” will be the first half-hour sitcom developed by Starz since CEO Chris Albrecht took charge in 2010, he told analysts today. (Earlier Starz had comedies including Head Case, Party Down, and Gravity.) But it doesn’t represent a shift from his focus on dramas. Albrecht says he plans to “tread cautiously” and won’t “open the floodgates” to hear pitches for comedies that were rejected elsewhere. Speaking broadly about his originals, Albrecht says that “we look at all of these shows as individual businesses.” He’s cool to adding sports. “The investment is great, and the return is de minimus,” he says. And while he loves documentaries, “they’re found all over the dial” and he doesn’t yet see one that he believes would work for his premium networks. For the most part Albrecht used his call to reinforce his belief that Starz can thrive as an independent company. He said that Starz has a new deal with MGM for older films in the library, including titles from the Rocky and James Bond franchises. That follows a similar deal announced this week with Fox. He also noted that Starz recently cut distribution deals with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision. Albrecht says he’s confident that his company will be fine if pay TV companies consolidate. “We are actually a revenue source for the operators…They make money because we make money.” Still, he acknowledged the widely held view that it’s … Read More »
One day after HBO execs said they would not telecast the pilot for a drama series James Gandolfini filmed shortly before his death, the former head of HBO was asked at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013 to say something about the actor, who died last month of a heart attack at age 51. Starz chief Chris Albrecht, who’d headed programming at HBO when The Sopranos was picked up, with Gandolfini cast in the lead role, responded: “Gandolfini was part of years and experience and a project that changed my life and changed everybody’s lives that were intimately involved with it… He was an extraordinarily talented man, and in my opinion nobody has ever been better in anything than James was in The Sopranos. And he was a very nice man.” Read More »
At the top of Starz‘s TCA presentation, the network’s topper Chris Albrecht announced a second-season renewal for the Michael Bay-produced Black Sails ahead of the pirate drama’s January debut. Albrecht said the network brass were already high on the series and had opened the writers room to start working on scripts for a second season when a strong reaction to Black Sails at Comic-Con solidified the renewal decision. “We thought that Michael Bay, (creator/showrunner) Jon Steinberg and their teams deserved all the time; these shows are massive undertakings and an early renewal gives them the opportunity to prepare for the second season the same way they prepared for the first, and it gives us the opportunity to keep the show on a 12-month cycle,” Albrecht said. Starz has a habit of giving shows a second season renewal before the premiere, it did it with Boss, Magic City and Spartacus. Additionally, Starz has picked up Stephen Poliakoff’s five-part BBC miniseries Dancing On The Edge, which will air on Starz in late fall. It is about a black jazz band in London in the early 1930s. The goal for next year is to have 50 hours of original programming, Albrechts said.
The bump came mostly from option awards which Starz‘s former parent, Liberty Media, was eager to award last year. The company feared that the feds might tinker with the corporate tax deduction for performance-based pay “in response to the widespread ‘fiscal cliff’ concerns,” Starz says in its first proxy as an independent company, filed today at the SEC. Liberty spun it off in January. CEO Chris Albrecht‘s package consisted of $1M salary, $100,000 bonus, $11M in option awards, $750,000 in non-equity incentives, and $25,834 in other compensation. His total is 7.8 times the median for Starz’s other top executives, well above the level that causes concern among corporate governance activists that the CEO wields too much power. Liberty Chairman John Malone controls about 42.8% of Starz’s voting stock with additional shares held by allies Robert Bennett (3.2%) and Comcast (3.2%). That should make short work of the company’s annual meeting, to be held June 6 in Beverly Hills.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht gave a brief state of the network at the opening of Starz‘s portion of TCA’s press tour. He addressed the company’s pending spinoff from Liberty Media. “This month Starz will become an independent company separate from Liberty Media with yours truly as CEO of a private company,” he said. “It is daunting and exciting. For this room what it means is we will now be in charge of our own balance sheet, and be able to accelerate our rampup into original programming.” The importance of original programming is even greater for Starz now as it faces the 2016 departure of its top supplier of theatrical movies, Disney, which recently inked a deal with Netflix. “The first thing I would say is, there was every opportunity for us to make the deal or not make it,” Albrecht said after the session about the negotiations with Disney. “And the reason we chose to not make it is, Disney movies are not the future of Starz, and to dramatically increase the amount of money we’re paying for movies right now didn’t really seem to be the prudent way to commit Starz’ financial resources. Originals are an essential part of our future.”
At the top of Starz’s portion of the TCA summer press tour, the network’s president and CEO was asked about the decision to end the costume drama Spartacus after the upcoming third season. Albrecht said he joined Starz when the network was editing the first season of the show. “When I saw the ending of the first season, I said: ‘Uh-oh’, Spartacus just exited the franchise; it exited the Upstairs, Downstairs aspect of gladiators and Romans living together”. With the gladiators taking to the hills and the Romans in town, “we had to tell two distinct stories, and that is never the ultimate way to do a TV series”, Albrecht said. The series also had to deal with the departure of beloved original star Andy Whitfield. “Ultimately, rather than trying to string the story with one more argument, one more villain showing up, we decided to follow the historic trajectory and bring Spartacus’ story to an end. Better leave viewers wanting more than diminish the overall impact of the franchise”.
Spartacus creator Steven S. DeKnight, who is under an overall deal at Starz, is already working on his next project for the pay cable network. “Steven just returned from Hawaii where he shot ‘proof of concept’ for a show he’s developed”, Albrecht said. That show is sci-fi drama Incursion, which Albrecht described as “Band of Brothers meets Halo” and involves a lot of creatures.
Albrecht also gave an update on Starz’s upcoming series. Da Vinci’s Demons, which is currently in production, is eyed for the end of first quarter or second quarter of 2013. The series stars Tom Riley as young Leonardo Da Vinci. The Michael Bay-produced pirate drama Black Sails is currently in pre-production in South Africa where standing sets are being erected with the goal to also build one or two boats. The series is looking at a launch in early 2014, possibly inheriting the Spartacus slot. Read More »
Although Starz appears to be off the market for now, CEO Chris Albrecht told investors today that his channel should still be in the catbird seat as digital media grow. But “it will take money” to produce the kind of programming that will set Starz apart from basic cable channels that spend as much as $3M an hour for originals, he said at a conference organized by his parent company Liberty Media. He wants Starz’ shows to have a theatrical feel with iconic, larger than life characters and broad appeal. He assured the audience that he won’t break the bank, though: For example, Spartacus ”is shot completely inside a warehouse in New Zealand….This is the way they make theatrical movies now.” Also Starz has decreased its spending on theatrical films. “That money will be reinvested in original programming.” Starz still plans to run theatricals from its premium TV agreements with Disney, which runs to 2016, and Sony, which goes to 2017.
The biggest new opportunities are in digital media: Starz next year will launch its own streaming platform for its pay TV customers, similar to HBO Go, Albrecht says. That will “get us in front of younger eyeballs and make our product as compelling as anything in the premium space.” Albrecht also is “willing to have the conversations” with companies that want to challenge cable and satellite providers by licensing traditional channels for a streamed service. “Someone will do it,” … Read More »
Analysts attending Liberty Media’s annual investor day on Thursday will be listening carefully when Starz CEO Chris Albrecht discusses his channel’s plans. His boss, Liberty Chairman John Malone, loves to buy, sell, and swap assets — as long as he can do so without paying a big tax bill. And there’s a growing belief that Malone is positioning Starz for a deal as the company focuses its branding efforts around more than 50 hours of original programs — including Boss, Magic City, Spartacus, and Da Vinci’s Demons — instead of theatrical films from Disney and Sony. For example, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield says in a blog post today that “a transaction may…be coming to turn Starz into an asset based security” instead of just part of the Liberty Starz tracking stock. Janney Capital Markets’ Tony Wible says that Starz’ “strategic benefits could make it an M&A target.” Maxim Group’s John Tinker agrees that Starz “should be merged into a larger entity.”
Albrecht reinforced those views recently by talking up his desire to have the channel stand out as a premium service. On Friday he elaborated at the Monaco Media Forum on points he made earlier in the week on the Liberty earnings call: The channel scrapped its effort to negotiate a new streaming deal with Netflix because it didn’t set Starz apart from the video pack. Read More »