Two years into his tenure as president and CEO of Starz Media, Chris Albrecht says his goal is to develop 50 to 60 hours of original programming for the channel, and then use that content to further build Starz brand.
"Given how many different options there are out there, it's more important to be unique than to create a lot of tonnage," Albrecht told B&C Editor-in-Chief Ben Grossman, who was interviewing him on-stage at the annual NATPE conference in Miami.
While Albrecht is always on the look-out for new projects, he doesn't make pilots to identify those projects.
"I can see why pilots are an important part of the process," he said. "But the reason we don't do them is two-fold. First, pilots are expensive. Making just a few of them ends up burning $20 to $30 million. The other reason is that we're the new kid on block in terms of original programming. If a show's script and other elements are in place, we're not going to ask you to go through another audition process of making a pilot, even though that is valuable for both sides."
Recently, Starz' pilot-less development process brought it Boss, starring Kelsey Grammar. On Sunday, January 15, the former Frasier star pulled an upset and walked off with a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV drama.
"We were working with [WME Entertainment co-president] Ari Emanuel and we were going to pick up Boss. I was trying to talk him into a pilot because we were going into the show with a showrunner I didn't know," said Albrecht.
But Emanuel convinced Albrecht that Starz needed to commit to the project without a pilot or else the producers would take it somewhere else.
"We did that and it worked so well that I decided that should be our M.O.," Albrecht said.
For now, Starz' original programs will consist primarily of dramas with international appeal.
"There's two reasons for the shows to have an international appeal," Albrecht said. "One is since we want to do things that are more theatrical and because many of them will cost more money than an average show on either a basic or a premium channel, we need to find partners. To be valuable to those partners, the shows have to have an international appeal. If we are funding the shows ourselves, the way to net down those investments or make money on them is to exploit those rights on other platforms, international being the one on which you get the best return. I thought those shows would work best for our brand."
As far as comedy, which is working well on both broadcast and cable, Albrecht says he plans to avoid the genre.
"It's hard to make a great television series, and it's even harder when it's comedy. On top of doing all the things you do in a drama, you need to make people laugh. Hour-long theatricalized dramas tend to travel really well. It's not that we are getting out of it, but we are going to wait and enter when we feel it's the right opportunity for us."
Big-ticket sports also won't be part of the mix for now, even though Albrecht has plenty of experience offering on-demand boxing from his years at HBO.
"We have certainly thought about it, but I'm not sure were able to offer them what they were looking for," he says. "Everyone's kind of stepped back a little but because [the boxing world] isn't as robust as it was before."
The newly-married Albrecht, 59, is pleased with his progress at Starz, but he admits that creating, developing and producing quality TV series is never easy. "I think it's been a surprise to me how challenging this has become. While fun, it's also very difficult."