All major premium cable networks posted subscriber growth in the most recent fourth quarter of 2014, which also featured a different pecking order for the first time in years, with Starz (23.3 million subscribers) edging Showtime (22.8 million) to finish No.2 behind perennial leader HBO (31.4 million).
It’s been awhile since Starz has had a No.2 ranking — on a yearly basis, it last finished ahead of Showtime in 2008. Starz’s subscriber base dipped the following year, followed by a growth streak starting in 2010 when the network launched its first hit scripted series, Spartacus, and when the reins of the network were taken by Chris Albrecht. (Showtime has been in a continuous growth mode for a decade.)
Both HBO and Starz benefited from some promotions by distributors last year that boosted subscriber levels, though the quoted Q4 2014 subscriber numbers, as reported by SNL Kagan, only include paying subscribers provided by each individual pay cable network.
The margin between Starz and Showtime is small, and it is unclear how long the repositioning of the two networks will last. Nevertheless, the quarterly No. 2 finish for Starz is giving a boost of confidence to the pay cable channel which — like HBO, Showtime and now Cinemax — has been beefing up its original series slate.