Beverly Hills, Calif.—Chris Albrecht, CEO of Starz, drew on his long tenure running cable businesses during a TCA summer press tour executive session that covered topics like Emmy politics, the peak TV era, skinny bundles and the company’s merger with Lionsgate.
The era of 400-plus scripted shows is "wild," Albrecht said. "But I try not to get caught up in what everyone else is doing because that’s not what I’m hired to do. I’m hired to grow the shareholder value of Starz."
Having been one of the main architects of prestige TV during his time at HBO, Albrecht still marvels at the pace of change. "I’ve never experienced anything like it," he said. "I take no credit for it happening. I’m swimming upstream just like everybody else is." Like many other execs at TCA, he poked Netflix, which kicked off the press tour by reminding everyone of its vast war chest. "It’d be nice to have $6 billion to spend," Albrecht said.
By seeking innovative distribution deals and exploring minority-focused programming like Power and Survivor's Remorse, which hasn't traditionally been a premium-cable hallmark, Starz has registered strong subscriber growth. As of the end of the second quarter, Albrecht said Starz was at 24.2 million subs and Encore about 32 million, placing Starz No. 2 behind HBO and ahead of Showtime. Stand-alone availability via Amazon and the company’s own OTT app has also been encouraging, Albrecht said, though he did not reveal any numbers.
"It’s not a horserace," Albrecht said. "I have great respect for the folks at Showtime and what they do and the people who work on their shows. My point is that the Starz strategy is working and the conversation we have with distributors is that there are a lot of people out there who would like to subscribe to Starz, especially if it’s packaged innovatively and in ways that are more affordable."
He added, “As we’ve investigated the demographics of Starz fandom, we’ve found there are income brackets that might be challenged by the cable stack but would very much like to be Starz subscribers. With changes in the MVPD world and in the way we can distribute to potential subscribers, we find there’s an audience out there.”
Often outspoken, Albrecht became even more so when asked about the oversight of Starz shows by Emmy voters, notably Outlander, Power and Survivor's Remorse.
He said the Emmy snubs were no surprise and expressed pessimism about an Americans-like breakthrough down the line. “I don’t think we’ll ever break through with those shows,” he said. “I was part of the team that invented how to campaign for Emmy Awards. Trust me, it’s not a level playing field. I spent years inside the TV Academy working it. It took a lot of money. And there’s a certain momentum that goes along with that." That said, he added he remains “incredibly proud of the work being done on our shows and it is award-worthy.”
The TV Academy, he added, “should have something that reflects this expansion [in the content pool] … and not a continually reductive process that ends up with a longer list of losers and the same number of winners.” Noting the company also went home empty-handed at the Golden Globes, he mused, “What does it mean? I don’t know. This is all silly.”
The company’s forthcoming merger with Lionsgate factored briefly into the session. “From a content point of view, Starz will very much remain on strategy, and we’ll be operating pretty much autonomously” since it generates the bulk of the profit in the TV sector in the combined company, he said. “Talent is the valuable currency in this business. IP comes through that talent. We will be able to be in business with that valuable currency and we will get better at monetizing that currency.”