EXCLUSIVE: Starz CEO Chris Albrecht will depart next month after a decade at the company. Albrecht’s decision to step down comes two years after Starz’s acquisition by Lionsgate was completed amid the continued integration of the two companies.
For the time being, Starz will move forward under COO Jeffrey Hirsch and the current leadership team, including President of Programming Carmi Zlotnik, working closely with Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer.
Albrecht is leaving on a high note. Starz was the brightest spot on Lionsgate’s most recent quarterly earnings report in November, posting its best revenue growth in more than 10 years. Since Albrecht joined Starz as CEO in January 2010, the pay cable networks has achieved a 48% increase in subscribers, from 17 million to 25.1 million currently.
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The Starz OTT business, launched by Albrecht in 2016, has grown to more than 3 million subscribers with the company becoming OTT partner to Amazon, Hulu, Google and others, while the Starz App has been a Top 5 streaming service in the U.S., with growth of more than 62% year-over-year.
Starz subscriber growth has been fueled by the slate of original content Starz has built under former HBO boss Albrecht. Once a distant third premium cable network and almost an afterthought in the original series arena, Starz has established itself as a strong player in the space with hits like Outlander, Power and American Gods and acclaimed fare like Vida.
“Chris’s renowned programming expertise and entrepreneurial abilities have helped build Starz into a premium global brand distinguished by its great shows, fast-growing direct to consumer initiatives, and expanding international footprint,” said Feltheimer. “As we complete the first phase of our evolution into a unified company and accelerate our focus on Starz’s international expansion, Chris has decided to step down to pursue other opportunities. I look forward to working closely with him and Jeff Hirsch to ensure a smooth transition and plan the next steps of the Company’s continued growth.”
For Albrecht, the departure comes after a decade at the helm of Starz as it evolved from a division of Liberty Media through an independent publicly traded company to a part of Lionsgate.
While Starz was a standalone entity, the goal always was to combine it with another company that led to the deal with Lionsgate, “which was an idea everybody was excited about,” Albrecht told Deadline. “It was taking a content company and merging it with a platform company that was getting in the original programming area aggressively but needed the access to talent relationships and a bigger balance sheet.”
While the acquisition was pending in 2016, Albrecht signed a new contract with the Starz board as “we always knew there would be work to do managing the individual businesses while we were putting the companies together,” he said.
With the phase of stabilizing both businesses largely completed at the two-year mark post-merger, including the executive restructuring at Lionsgate’s movie division, and Starz in strong position, “we looked at what was the next phase is,” Albrecht said. “The goal here is to turn it into an integrated content platform company that has a global reach, and it’s pretty hard to do that with two CEOs.”
Because of how Lionsgate and Starz came together, the combined entity is a rare company with two CEOs, Feltheimer and Albrecht.
“Jon and I sat, we talked a little bit where the opportunities really were, and as I say to him joking, I’m probably more employable, so why don’t I help you with this transition.”
Albrecht could’ve stayed on — he has almost two years left on his contract — but opted to depart after helping with the transition.
“It’s time to leave this in the hands of Jon Feltheimer and the talented Starz-Lionsgate team,” Albrecht said. “It is a good moment, why not take that moment to say exit stage right.”
Albrecht is proud of what Starz has become over the past decade, calling it “the little engine that could,” with its small team “holding their own against companies that are behemoths.”
Albrecht believes that he is leaving Starz well positioned to continue its growth trajectory. “We have secured a real critical mass of content for the Starz pipeline,” he said, noting hits Outlander and Power, the upcoming new seasons of American Gods, Vida and Sweetbitter and new entries Now Apocalypse and The Spanish Princess.
On a personal level, Albrecht said that he’d started thinking about what the next career turn would be after successful stints at HBO and Starz.
“I was looking around, realizing that, compared to some of my other peers, I’m a young guy; hopefully there will be several other chapters here,” he said. “I had a great run at HBO, I had an interesting pitstop at IMG, and I had an amazing time at Starz and then at Starz-Lionsgate.”
Albrecht hasn’t decided what he would do next. “I’m certainly open to anybody who has a great idea,” he said, adding that, after spending most of his career to date at premium cable networks, “I think premium is a space I’m very comfortable in. I love working with talent, whether it’s talented executives, whether it’s talent working on shows, I’ve always really enjoyed working with fresh voices. I just like taking shots with people who need guidance and support but not interference and more often than not, even if a show doesn’t garner huge audiences, you look at it creatively and say, that was worth trying.”
Pointing to a number of outliers, shows unlike anything else on TV like the upcoming Starz comedy Now Apocalypse, Albrecht said, “I feel Starz has developed a real reputation and a real credibility in the creative community as a place that supports the shows, as a place that take chances.”
He hopes that notion is carried forward.
“What Starz needs to do is continue to do what it’s done, which is take advantage of its flexibility and at the same time take advantage of its strengths in a more streamlined operating structure,” he said.
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