Starz CEO Talks Mended Relationships, New Michael Bay Pirate Show

1:21 PM PST 01/07/2014 by Paul Bond
Chris Albrecht

UPDATE: "Now we have a much healthier dialogue going on with them," said Starz CEO Chris Albrecht of distributors who were upset with a former Netflix deal. He also promoted the upcoming "Black Sails" premiere on Jan. 25.

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht says his relationship with distributors over a past Netflix deal has been fixed, and that he prefers partnering with distributors in the future rather than competing with them.

Starz walked away from a Netflix deal more than three years ago that would have been worth an estimated $300 million per year -- ten times more than Netflix had been paying previously for Starz content. The negotiations were contentious at times, and some other distributors objected to the Starz-Netflix deal.

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Speaking about distributors for Starz, Albrecht said: "We've had a little fence-mending to do, given the fact that Starz had what was considered, and I would agree with it, a very inequitable deal with Netflix for a few years, that arguably Netflix gained a whole lot more from than Starz did. And I think it sort of stuck a finger in the eye of the distributor. But now we have a much healthier dialogue going on with them. I think before we make any decisions that make it seem as if we're competing with them, we'd like to take advantage of what we see clearly as growth opportunity with them."

Starz has 20 million subscribers and Encore has 35 million, Albrecht said, and when it comes to carriage fees in general, the negotiating parties ought to try not to gouge each other.

"We try to give them more reasons to sell us," he said of distributors. "We want them to make money from us. The way that we make more money is if they make more money, not by trying to gouge ... We look at this as more of a partnership in growth than as an us-versus-them."

The company is aiming for about 50 hours of scripted original content this year, growing to 75-85 in the next few years, he said.

The CEO also promoted the Jan. 25 scheduled premiere of Black Sails, a TV show from Michael Bay about pirates that Albrecht likened to Deadwood on a boat.

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"There's an international talk-like-a-pirate day -- we thought that was a pretty good reason to get into business," he quipped. "Shows sometimes travel in packs, and there were a lot of pirate ideas floating around ... but we heard that Michael Bay and his company were going out with one, so we waited to hear that one and then loved the pitch."

The first season was shot in South Africa, miles away from the ocean. The show has already been picked up for a second season. 

"We built a lagoon, we built a town, a beach, we built a tank, we built one-and-a-half ships ... it really looks unlike anything else I've ever seen."

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