July 11, 2014 3:14pm PT by Michael O'Connell
Starz Chief Defends Early Pickups, Talks 'Buzz' Envy and Staying out of Bed With Netflix
With just a month to go before perhaps its most hyped original series launch yet, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht was noticeably enthused when he preluded his Q&A at Friday's TCA press tour with a new clip of Outlander.
"We could not be more excited about Outlander," he said shortly after. Albrecht's appearance at the summer 2014 press tour comes at a time of programming growth for the pay cable network. Recent appearances have dwelled on high-profile cancelations (Boss and Magic City). The forward-looking executive session, during which Albrecht also revealed he tried to make a Fifty Shades of Grey TV series, also hit on some of the obstacles he's faced since joining the network in 2010 — his series' lack of pop culture cache topping that list.
Here are some of the other matters he discussed:
Those Early Renewals Aren't Going Away
The fact that Starz gave sophomore pickups to both Boss and Magic City before they ever premiered, yet neither went any further, has never been lost on TV reporters. And after enduring the criticism for some time, Albrecht used the podium to hit back a little. "We had a lot of jabs for picking up shows early," he said. "I'm beginning to think in this world of increased competition, I should worry less about what other people think and more about our belief in the changing environment and the people who are doing the show." He pointed to peers at FX (John Landgraf) and Showtime (David Nevins) who are now similarly eager to give straight-to-series orders and renewals. "When I look at the end of season two of Black Sails, I want to know what happens next," he added. "I'm optimistic [for season three]."
Where Is the Love?
Albrecht was frank in his frustration that none of his series, many of them critically well-received, have reached the same pop culture saturation as series on other cable networks. "I'm at a little bit of a loss as to why some of the really good shows we've put on haven't created more buzz with you," he told reporters. "Maybe we need to change our thinking." That might entail a new take on marketing. He said that he recently had a discussion about bucking the norm by spending more on marketing sophomore seasons than series premieres in an effort to drum up buzz. "I'm baffled sometimes by the things that get buzz and that don't," he added. "I always want more people to say nice things about all of the good work people do at Starz."
Power Has Been a Big Success With Black Viewers
Starz handed out a quick renewal to drama Power earlier this summer after a modest start with audiences. Though Albrecht did not discuss viewership on the show, he did say that most of them were not white. "The not-so-surprising secret about Power is that white people don't watch a lot of shows that don't have a lot of white faces in them," he said. "That's going to take some time." Power's black audience, which he noted made up more than half of the total viewership, is also the biggest for a pay cable network in some time: "[It has] the largest concentration of black households of any premium show since The Wire."
No Streaming Partnerships on the Horizon
The buzz issue prompted Albrecht to talk about how streaming deals with Netflix and Amazon could improve his original series' footprints — but he ultimately doesn't see the value. "The promise of pay television is that what you're selling isn't one show versus another show," he said. "You're selling the channel, you're selling the brand. If people could pick parts, that's taking apart the brand. … The idea of finding a show on what's kind of a competitor doesn't really work in the premium space. That thinking is pretty uniform, and I'm not sure why it would change."