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.
Albrecht talked up his need to persuade cable and satellite companies to promote sales of his premium channels when they’re busiest marketing to sign up new customers. “That is the way you acquire the most amount of subs.” But he says he’d entertain other models. “If our distributors decided to create a package on high-speed [Internet] that would get Starz to the consumer at a lower price point, we see that as an opportunity for Starz.” He’d also consider offering his channels on broadband-based programming services such as the ones that Intel and Sony are considering “as long as we’re in a premium tier.” Would he consider offering Starz directly to consumers who don’t subscribe to pay TV? “At this time we don’t have any plans. …It’s way, way, way too early — if ever — to think about going direct.” But he adds that there “is nothing in our deals with studios or distributors that would prevent us” from doing so.
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