Starz CEO Chris Albrecht got off easy this morning at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference when asked the most important question about his company: Whether recent reports are correct that his efforts to find a buyer have fallen apart. The news drove his stock price down about 13% over the last week.
But he was allowed to dance around the question. “It’s a very interesting experience to be CEO of a company and read something about the company and say ‘I didn’t know that’,” he said. Albrecht acknowledged that Liberty Media spun off Starz last year in part because it would give it more flexibility to forge alliances. So is he talking up deals? Kind of. “There are only about 10 of us left in the media business…We travel in a pack and we’re always talking to each other.” Meanwhile his largest shareholder — Liberty Media’s John Malone, who controls 49% of the voting shares — is “excited about Starz as a business….His views are aligned with the views of the Starz management.”
With that out of the way, Albrecht talked up Starz’s ability to grow from original programming, and digital distribution. He took issue with HBO chief Richard Plepler’s recent boasts about the amount of theatrical movies on his platform. “Plepler said 80% of viewing on HBO is movies. It wasn’t 80% when I was there” before 2007. But subscribers “buy for the originals.” He wants shows that appeal to “everybody who can afford to pay for premium.”
Like other premium networks, Starz is eager to reach the growing number of people who want its programming but don’t want to first have to subscribe to the expanded basic pay TV bundle. Millennials and Hispanics, in particular, “will be connected to some high-speed product and they will be very ripe for taking the kinds of products created by the premium brands.” That could include a cable bundle with broadband service plus broadcast channels and a premium network. Starz could sweeten the deal for cable operators, who want to free up bandwidth for digital services, by offering to give up multiplex channels.
Albrecht added that it’s “short sighted” for traditional TV programmers to sell their shows to Netflix — the opposite of a case that CBS chief research officer David Poltrack made yesterday. “It’s an alternative product. But our research shows that a majority of people who have premium also have Netflix. As incomes compress, will those choices become harder?….That’s why its more important to get our product off of that [pay TV] stack.”