Starz to double original show output

7:31 AM PST 10/01/2010 by Georg Szalai, AP

CEO Chris Albrecht wants to be 'popcorn brand'

NEW YORK -- Starz and its president and CEO Chris Albrecht were in the spotlight at Liberty Media's annual investor and analyst meeting here Friday morning as the CEO further detailed his original content and branding plans.

Albrecht touted "a new, focused strategy" to investors, on which his team will execute in the next 18 months, and a targeted approach to original programming.

He said that Starz is looking to be more of "a popcorn brand" than others in the premium TV space and detailed that Starz is looking to boost its original output from 25 to 50-60 hours a year.

While peers have at times tried many different shows and approaches to see which stick and allow to build a brand around them, Albrecht said Starz has a brand idea and wants to selectively pick originals and other content to match it. Starz and Liberty executives have said they are looking to strengthen the Starz brand to get distributors to more aggressively market it.

Key about originals is that they are globally monetizable, just like "Spartacus," rather than focused on the U.S. only, Albrecht said Friday.

He also emphasized that the Starz brand also entails exclusive movie output deals, currently with Disney and Sony.

2011 will be the first full year, in which Starz's new strategy will be at work.

Total programming costs are only expected to rise slightly, Albrecht emphasized amid concerns of the cost of the expansion of original.

And he promised Starz will use creative financial approaches, particularly partnerships, to limit programming risk.

After 2009 Starz and Encore subscriber losses due to lack of marketing support from distributors, both have grown this year, mostly driven by telecom partners, Albrecht also highlighted.

Earlier, in an opening video to the Liberty investor day, Albrecht had said that there is "still a lot of upside" to Starz and that he was confident it would be "the next big thing" in the premium TV category.

In the video, he also said Liberty as an employer was attractive to him because it is "a large company, but they are entrepreneurs at heart." He said he was looking to have that spirit of entrepreneurship trickle down to his business.

Liberty CEO Greg Maffei told the Wall Street crowd that Liberty Starz's growth opportunities include driving subscriber and revenue growth, controlling costs, particularly in programming and marketing, as well as possible acquisitions, although he emphasized it isn't clear at this stage if and where opportunities may be found.

The investor day also opened with more of a Hollywood feel than usual as a video showed Liberty's version of "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" called "Are You Smarter Than A Tracking Stock?"

It featured chairman John Malone quizzing Maffei about which Liberty assets are housed in which of the various company stocks, such as Liberty Interactive, Liberty Capital and Liberty Starz.
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